Anonymous strikes San Francisco's BART after cell shutdown fiasco

UPDATED at 8 a.m. Aug. 16: Dozens of protestors descended on downtown San Francisco during the Aug. 15 afternoon rush hour, but BART officials did not cut mobile phone service, writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Rachel Gordon, Vivian Ho, Will Kane and Demian Bulwa. BART shut down four stations as the protestors moved from station to station, complying with police orders while conveying their frustration with recent fatal police activity and the transit system's move to interrupt phone service Aug. 11. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission is investigating BART's actions.

San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system is under siege from unlikely cohorts: First Amendment advocates and the Anonymous hacker group.

BART officials made a controversial decision Aug. 11 to shut down mobile phone service at all BART stations to help dismantle a potential protest, writes the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bob Egelko. As witnessed throughout the world this year, mobile phones have proven to be useful tools for protest organizers who turn to social media networks and text messages to quickly gather large numbers of people. In response, the Anonymous hacktivist group has launched a campaign to protest the potentially illegal move, writes PC Magazine’s David Murphy.

Victims of Anonymous’ cyberattack include BART’s mybart.org and the public bart.gov websites. Both of those sites were unavailable for parts of Aug. 15. In addition, Anonymous released personal information of BART riders and employees as part of #OpBART, the group’s name for its campaign, Murphy writes.

Besides Anonymous hackers, BART officials are under fire from First Amendment advocates who question the legality of a phone service shutdown. A 1967 ruling by the California Supreme Court states that cities can’t stop protests in train stations, Egelko writes. It’s unclear — for now — whether that ruling would apply to modern technology, such as mobile phone services that users can tap into to organize spontaneous protests.

The maelstrom will likely continue throughout the day as Anonymous members intend to hold a protest at BART’s Civic Center station at 8 p.m. EST Aug. 15, Murphy writes. According to Egelko, BART might again disrupt phone service to stymie the protest. On one of Anonymous’ official Twitter feeds, an Anonymous representative insinuated that the hackers would try to jam police radios during the upcoming demonstration.

The catalyst for this debacle was a fatal police shooting in early July and subsequent protest July 11 that interrupted the afternoon commute that day, according to CBS San Francisco. A group dubbed No Justice, No BART rallied at the Civic Center station and tried to stop a train from departing the station. Their demands included dismantling the train system’s police force after an officer killed a man armed with a knife July 3.

Tensions are high in the city after more people rallied to protest another incident a few weeks later. Police shot and killed a man who fled a Muni light-rail vehicle and supposedly fired at officers July 16, according to CBS San Francisco. Later that night, police in riot gear gathered to control an impromptu protest in the city’s Mission District.

Reader Comments

Tue, Aug 16, 2011

If these cell repeaters in the stations are government owned and operated, turn them off and leave them off. Want cell service, stay above ground. There is no right to wireless connectivity anywhere and everywhere.

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