Updated: BART Officials React to Attacks, Plan Response to Today's Demonstration

By Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Monday August 15, 2011 - 03:25:00 PM

A BART spokesman defended today the agency's interruption of cellphone service to prevent a protest from happening at train stations in downtown San Francisco last week and said he hopes another protest planned for this evening remains peaceful. 

BART has come under widespread criticism for cutting off cellphone service in the four downtown stations to prevent a protest that never materialized last Thursday. 

In response, the hacker protest group "Anonymous" is organizing another protest at 5 p.m. today, and is also taking credit for a cyber attack during the weekend that resulted in the release of personal information for at least 2,400 users of the agency's myBART.org website. 

It was unclear whether demonstrators planned to gather on the platform or outside the fare gates, although a Facebook event page titled "Protest BART's attack on free speech and civil rights!" said it would start on the Civic Center train platform. That event page listed 162 planned attendees as of 1:35 p.m. 

Organizers from Anonymous said this evening's protest would be peaceful. 

BART spokesman Linton Johnson said he hoped that was the case, and said people will be allowed to protest outside of the fare gates at the stations, but not on the platforms or trains themselves. 

"I personally ... welcome the group and anyone that wants to protest, as long as they do it safely," Johnson said. 

The planned protest last Thursday was in response to the fatal shooting of Charles Hill by BART police in the Civic Center station on July 3. On July 11, protesters gathered at the station and prevented trains from leaving by blocking the train doors, with one even climbing on top of a train. 

During that demonstration, protesters "showed a propensity to create chaos on the platform, and that is unacceptable" because it jeopardizes customer and employee safety, Johnson said. 

To prevent a similar disruption Thursday, BART temporarily suspended the wireless services because "we had knowledge ahead of time about the time, place and manner of how this illegal protest was going to take place, and were forced into a gut-wrenching decision of how we were going to stop it," Johnson said. 

He said the service was interrupted for three hours at the four stations, where police and ambulances were also stationed in case of an emergency. 

"We were forced into this decision," he said. "This is not one we wanted to make." 

Johnson declined to say whether BART officials will interrupt cellphone service again for this evening's protest, saying only that "we will staff accordingly and take appropriate measures," including possibly closing stations temporarily. 

The move has been widely criticized and reported worldwide, and already spurred the data breach by Anonymous on the agency's myBART.org website, which is used for marketing and to announce deals near BART stations. 

The protest group posted the stolen user data -- which includes names, email addresses, passwords, and in some cases, an address and phone number -- on its Twitter account, and also posted contact information for BART employees and encouraged its members to flood them with emails and calls. 

BART notified law enforcement officials about the cyber attack, and have taken down the myBART.org website while they work to secure it. 

"We hope to discover how they did it and learn from that," Johnson said. 

He defended the agency's security of the website, saying "a victim should not be blamed when a thief comes in." 

BART officials are encouraging myBART.org users to not open unsolicited emails and to immediately change any passwords that may have also been used with unrelated accounts. 

Another website not associated with BART, www.californiaavoid.org, was also hacked with the logo of Anonymous, which remained on the website as of early this afternoon. 

California AVOID is a state-sponsored partnership of law enforcement agencies to prevent drunken driving. 

Updates on potential temporary closures of BART stations or changes to service during this evening's protest will be posted at www.bart.gov and www.511.org. 

People reporting security or safety issues on BART trains or stations should call 911, BART police at (510) 464-7000, use the train intercom, or San Francisco police at (415) 553-8090.