This is On the Media, and I'm Brooke Gladstone with a few of your letters. Last week we spoke with Bay Area Rapid Transit Deputy Police Chief Daniel Hartwig.
When faced with a large demonstration on the subway platform his department decided to cut off some cell phone service to prevent protesters from communicating. Here's a clip of Hartwig explaining his actions to Bob.
Obviously, there is maintaining the public safety and order, and then there is suppressing political protest and freedom of speech. Can the police department be trusted to make the decision when it is the former and not the latter?
We never lead with suppression of social media, suppression of First Amendment rights, suppression in any manner.
There's a nasty hidden message to the statement, wrote listener Hunter J.E. from Kirkland, Washington. He went on, quote, “First it says that they too consider what they're doing to be suppressing First Amendment rights and, second, that they consider that a perfectly valid tool, if not a first one. What we have is a government-run institutions saying right out that it considers impugning on the constitutional rights of citizens something it does and a valid tool. Disturbing.”
The counter argument came from Rena in Philadelphia, where there have been incidents of social media-fueled violence recently. She wrote that, quote, “I doubt many residents of Philly would have had any problem with blocking social media.”
For that story we also spoke to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Jillian York, who drew comparisons between the BART shutdown and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak shutting down the Internet at key moments during the uprising there. Here's a clip from that interview:
Does it help when police trying to do their best are compared to tyrants?
I do think that these are two different situations. But, at the same time, the actions of the BART police did very much reflect the actions of Mubarak earlier this year in shutting down this media.
While these things did happen on very different scales, the intent was the same, to shut down speech in light of protests. We are looking at this as precedent, as a slippery slope. And I, I do fear that this is something we're going to be seeing a lot more often.
“I believe that Jillian York overreaches with her slippery slope argument in this particular instance,” wrote Phil Edwards from Richmond, Virginia. He added, quote, “I hardly think that the limited geographic scope of the actions, along with the rationale provided by law enforcement, should evoke the same level of outrage as those of a regime which compels ISPs within its borders to choke off network access for the entire nation state. But reasonable people may disagree with this, and isn’t that kind of the point?”
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This summer I found myself on two separate weeks recommending novels about werewolves. What does that say about me?