Protests by Anonymous against authoritarian policies hit a little closer to home over the weekend, when the hacker group announced that its latest target is BART. The decision to go after BART was in response to the rapid transit system’s decision to block wireless signals in its downtown stations on Thursday, so phones could not be used to organize a protest against the fatal shooting of Charles Hill by BART police last July.
Anonymous noted that this policy of blocking cell phones and internet access is reminiscent of the strategy employed by the Mubarak regime in Egypt to counter anti-government protesters. It has used the Twitter hashtag #MuBARTek to highlight the similarity between the two policies.
On Sunday, Anonymous hacked into the myBART org website and released personal information from as many as 2.400 users. BART responded by shutting the site down temporarily.
Anonymous also announced that it plans to hold a physical demonstration at 5pm on Monday at the Civic Center station. BART has yet to decide whether it will attempt to block wireless signals a second time to hinder the organization of today’s demonstration.
While no public figures have come out in support of Anonymous’s tactics, many have condemned BART for blocking cell phone service. State Senator Leland Yee (D-SF), a candidate for mayor of San Francisco, issued a statement saying, “I am shocked that BART thinks they can use authoritarian control tactics. BART’s decision was not only a gross violation of free speech rights; it was irresponsible and compromised public safety.” This was echoed by another mayoral candidate, Phil Ting, who stated that, “Censorship is not, and should never be, a public safety strategy.”
Even within BART, there have been complaints about the decision to block wireless signals, with at least one BART board member, Lynette Sweet, announcing publicly that she disagreed with the decision.