The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is finding itself in hot water after a cell phone service was shut down last Thursday, Aug. 11, in order to stop a planned protest from occurring. BART acknowledged the report that the cell phone towers were taken down shortly after the incident.
“Organizers planning to disrupt BART service on August 11, 2011 stated they would use mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART Police,” a statement the website of BART said. “A civil disturbance during commute times at busy downtown San Francisco stations could lead to platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions for BART customers, employees and demonstrators. BART temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform.”
The cell phone network runs from Balboa Park Station through Transbay Tube. BART is receiving criticism for blocking the service and the incident was even compared to recent Middle Eastern tactics where dictators stopped broadcasting Internet services in order to stop protests from happening.
“All over the world, people are using mobile devices to protest oppressive regimes, and governments are shutting down cell phone towers and the Internet to stop them,” Michael Risher, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said. “It’s outrageous that in San Francisco, BART is doing the same thing.”
Organizers had planned to protest the July 3 shooting of Charles Blair Hill, who was carrying a knife in a downtown BART station before he was shot by police.
Since the incident in question, the hacker group Anonymous have hacked into the BART train service website and have released sensitive customer data in what many are calling “their retaliation” to preventing the protest and their first amendment rights.
The information leaked contains information such as the names of passwords of more than 2,000 people that use the service, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In a statement, the computer hacking group noted that the website had no security and that an “8-year-old with an Internet connection” could have been able to hack it. “We are Anonymous, we are your citizens, we are the people, we do not tolerate oppression from any government agency,” the hackers said.
Following the incident, BART spokesman Jim Allison issued the following statement: “We’re going to take steps to make sure our customers are safe. The interruption of cell phone service was done Thursday to prevent what could have been a dangerous situation. It’s one of the tactics we have at our disposal. We may use it; we may not. And I’m not sure we would necessarily let anyone know in advance either way.”
Since hacking their first website earlier in the week, the hacking group has also hacked into the database belonging to the BART Police Officers Association, with sensitive database information from that website also being posted online. Full names, e-mail addresses, home addresses, and passwords were leaked.
“These people are criminals and we’re going to forward this information to the FBI,” BART union president, Jesse Sekhon, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “These people need to be brought to justice. They can’t be terrorizing people.”
“BART police officers are used to working in dangerous situations, but they aren’t used to having their family members exposed to danger,” BART’s Deputy Police Chief Ben Farrow told Bay City News.
On Monday, many took part in what was described as a civil protest following the prevented protest last week. Four San Francisco subway stations were closed because of it and people that were going to use the service had to find an alternative station or another way home.
The @OpBART Twitter account notes that a second round of protests will take place this upcoming Monday at 5PM at the Civic Center station.