Last Thursday, BART officials attempted to stymy a protest by shutting down cell phone service at its stations. Last weekend, the hacker collective Anonymous broke into BART’s systems and released the personal data of more than 2,400 BART customers. It also compromised the www.mybart.org website, which on Monday was a default construction page.
BART officials defended the temporary disruption of cell service at its downtown stations as a legitimate method to prevent a planned disturbance that “threatened the safety of other passengers.” They didn’t address the fact that the shutdown prevented passengers from calling emergency services. Meanwhile, Anonymous wrote:
We apologize to any citizen that has his information published, but you should go to BART and ask them why your information wasn’t secure with them. Also do not worry, probably the only information that will be abused from this database is that of BART employees.
BART may have to contend with the legal repercussions of interfering with an entire mode of communication. By blocking cell phone service, “you’re shutting down much more speech than could possibly be related to a protest,” said Michael Risherr, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer. If BART is truly concerned about passenger safety, he added, its focus should be to “prevent the violence, not the speech.”