San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system, BART, has been under fire since it shut off cell service at four “select” stations during commute hour on August 11. BART authorities made the now-fatal decision after learning that protests were planned to condemn the killing of Charles Blair Hill, who was shot by BART police officers on July 3 after they had received complaints about a drunken man. The Federal Communications Commission is now investigating BART’s decision to shut down cell service, while the American Civil Liberties Union is considering suing BART for First Amendment violations.
But these are just some of the slings and arrows currently being cast at BART. Hackers, some claiming affiliation with the group Anonymous, have attacked BART’s websites. MyBART.org has been hacked and more than 2,000 passenger e-mails and passwords public. The BART Police Officers Association Web site has also been hacked and officers’ personal information, including home addresses, released; a young French woman has claimed responsibility.
Then earlier today, Anonymous posted a photo of what was said to be a full-frontal view of the private parts of BART’s chief media spokesman, Linton Johnson, says the San Jose Mercury News. Anonymous has also made a list of demands to be fulfilled before it stop its attacks; one of those demands, says SF Weekly, is to fire Hinton:
Who knows where the vulgar photos originated from, but the pictures are blowing up on Twitter. Johnson became a target after the veteran spokesman told media outlets that it was his idea to shutdown cell-phone service in effort to block coordination of a scheduled protest — and that it was well within BART’s right to do so.
Jim Allison, a spokesman for BART, agency said he would not discuss the photos or any other “private matter” of an employee, but he clearly condemned the release of the photos. “They are not only unethical, but illegal,” said Allison. He went on to say that the protesters can keep demonstrating all they want, as long as it’s done legally. “There are lawful ways to protest outside the fare gates or go to BART board meetings — that’s appropriate, not making anonymous demands,” Allison said. “We stand by our decision to interrupt cell-phone service.”
The photo was posted as BART’s board “agreed to become the first public transit system in America to develop a policy regulating when to block cellphone service to protect public safety,” notes the San Jose Mercury News. The board will put together a policy in the next two to four weeks and have free speech advocates and BART’s citizen review committee review it.
BART Director Lynette Sweet of San Francisco noted the legal and ethical morass the transit agency now finds itself in, as it attempts to answer calls for freedom of speech while addressing what it says is the safety of passengers:
“We need to defend First Amendment rights for people to protest,” said … Sweet …. “We can’t just sit back like Big Brother and spin it and say it’s all about safety.”
In defending the Aug. 11 cell phone blackout, BART top managers said Wednesday that they had learned that some protesters planned to chain themselves to areas of sections, while others planned to demonstrate on station platforms during peak use of those stations.
Overcrowding can create dangerous conditions if trains are delayed or stopped between 5 and 5:15 p.m. on weekdays when an average of 177 riders a minute pour into the Embarcadero station, said Paul Oversier, BART’s assistant general manager for operations.
Some 350,000 passengers travel over 104 miles of track on BART daily.
The New York Times notes that the back-and-forth between BART and protesters, and hackers, is taking a toll on commuters:
Brian Payton, of Oakland, has been delayed twice by protests on his way home from work in downtown San Francisco. Standing with a crowd waiting for the Montgomery Street BART station to open on Monday, Mr. Payton said it was wearing on him even though he sympathized with the protesters’ cause.
“I do believe police brutality is wrong,” he said, “but there has to be another way to express themselves because all they’re doing is hurting people who had nothing to do with it.”
Could BART have avoided the whole imbroglio by not shutting off cell service in August? Or are the problems BART finds itself tackling ones that all public transit systems face in our digital cyber age?
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Photo by tedeytan