Extinction Rebellion: London Tube wifi shut down by police in attempt to disrupt climate change protesters

TfL fails to inform public internet access on Tube network would be 'switched off' 

Tom Embury-Dennis
Wednesday 17 April 2019 10:07 BST
Extinction Rebellion protesters continue to block Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge in third day of action

Police have shut down the public's access to wifi on the London Underground in an attempt to disrupt planned protests by climate protesters.

The blocking of the Tube's internet access, which was not made public before being implemented, comes amid a takeover since Monday of some of London's busiest streets by Extinction Rebellion, an environmental group attempting to force adequate government action over runaway climate change.

“In the interests of safety and to prevent and deter serious disruption to the London Underground network, British Transport Police (BTP) has taken the decision to restrict passenger WiFi connectivity at Tube stations," British Transport Police told The Independent.

"This follows intelligence that Extinction Rebellion protesters intend to cause disruption to Tube services."

A spokesperson added: “We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and we would like to assure passengers that this decision is not taken lightly."

Police say the group have caused "serious disruption" affecting half a million people in the capital over the past two days. Almost 300 activists have been arrested amid protests in Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge and Piccadilly Circus.

But XR say they are planning to disrupt Tube services on Wednesday after the government failed to meet its members to discuss their demands.

"XR will nonviolently disrupt Tube services to highlight the emergency of ecological collapse," XR said in a statement. "We sincerely apologise to all those who may suffer as a consequence of this disruption. In any other circumstances we would never dream of disrupting the Tube but this is an emergency."

A Transport for London (TfL) spokesperson said: “We’re working closely with the police to manage the impact of disruption to London’s transport network. Customer WiFi in Underground stations has been temporarily switched off after a request from British Transport Police. We will restore access as soon as we are able to do so.”

TfL and BTP's decision was criticised by privacy watchdog Big Brother Watch as "disproportionate" and "deeply authoritarian".

"Shutting down digital infrastructure in response to a peaceful protest is deeply authoritarian," said Griff Ferris, legal and policy officer at Big Brother Watch.

"While the police and transport networks have a duty to keep everyone safe, indiscriminately restricting everyone's ability to access wifi and communicate on the underground is disproportionate and the kind of action that's usually only taken in response to terror attacks.

"The authorities should not be using draconian powers to suppress people's right to peaceful protest."

In the face of climate breakdown – scientists have warned we have 12 years to stop catastrophic global warming – XR has three demands.

It is demanding the UK government declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025, and create a so-called citizens’ assembly made up of members of the public, which would lead decision-making in the fight against climate and ecological breakdown

XR said there were set to be protests in at least 80 cities in more than 33 countries.

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