Friday, August 26, 2005

Clyde Haberman Dials a Busy Signal

Someone should explain why Clyde Haberman of the New York Times needed to bring up former Mayor Giuliani's name in an article about the current MTA proposal to install equipment permitting cell phones to operate in subway stations and eventually on the subway cars themselves.

Haberman actually brings up Giuliani's name in a derogatory manner in the first four paragraphs despite the fact that he has not been mayor of New York City since January 2002.

He then goes on to write:
But life is now about to change in an important respect. In the name of security, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will install equipment to make cellphone service possible on scores of subway stations, 277 in all.

Say goodbye to some of the last refuges from the endless, witless yakking on cellphones that is epidemic in this city.

The terrorists can thus claim a success. They will have made it easier than ever for New Yorkers to drive one another crazy. All too many of them, you may have noticed, are not noted for restraint.
The MTA proposal is a serious one, and should be debated seriously. Haberman does a great disservice to his readers by adding all manner of fluff to an article that spends valuable inches of paper on extraneous stuff unrelated to the proposal.

Haberman insinuates that the MTA isn't installing the equipment for security purposes. He might be right, but you have no way to learn of that fact from the article. It is possible that the reason to install the equipment lies in an advertising and media deal with a telecommunications company, but you wouldn't know it from the article. That would actually require investigative journalism.

Having cellphones may make the subways safer on a day to day basis - someone can instantaneously call 911 from anywhere in the system to report a crime or report suspicious packages etc. That means that police could respond quicker, and catch the suspects in a timely fashion. Crime could fall in the transit system. Yet that argument isn't even included in the article.

Cell phone service should be weighed by the possibility that terrorists could exploit the cellphone usage by using cellphones to detonate bombs on the subway system, causing mass casualties. However, there is one problem with this particular argument that I haven't seen anywhere else.

There are significant portions of the NYC subway system that are actually at or above ground level, which means that you can get cell phone service while riding the subways. The elevated trains in Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and the Staten Island railroad all have cell phone service availability. No one is questioning whether to shut down service in those areas. The Madrid train bombings all occurred in areas where the service was available outside - not underground. The London bombings occurred underground, but they were conducted by suicide bombers, not remotely detonated.

And we're not even considering the commuter train systems that operate in the region, many of which operate above ground - permitting unrestricted cellphone service except for the sections in which they are underground as they head into Manhattan.

The worry that cellphone networks would be swamped and therefore unusuable should a mass attack occur is a valid one, but that hasn't stopped service anywhere else in the country.

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