On Friday, August 12, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in the San Francisco Bay area shut down cell phone services in four of its stations. The preemptive decision to cut service was done to prevent a planned protest against the recent shooting of homeless man Charles Hill from going “viral.”
BART’s move immediately led to a backlash on social media, especially those who organize or support the hacktivist group Anonymous. The hashtag #OpBART and #muBARTek began to appear in many messages on Twitter (here’s a collection of responses from users to BART’s move). A protest was called for at Civic Center on Monday.
I wrote an extensive article on BART’s act of censorship and also noted how BART produced a propaganda video to possibly justify how it worked to defuse a protest (that didn’t happen). And, on Sunday, FDL’s Lisa Derrick, who blogs at La Figa, posted an update on Anonymous’s response to BART, including the hacking of myBART.org.
The shutting down of services has sparked a legal debate that is definitely worth having. An action like this had never been taken by a government agency. On one hand, organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) contend it violated citizens’ First Amendment rights. EFF Austin (not affiliated with EFF) thinks BART likely violated section 333 of the Communications Act posted a statement showing. [Users have been using Twitter to urge people to file complaints with the FCC.]
On the other hand, there are those who do not think this could be challenged in court. The ACLU condemned BART’s move but a staff attorney with the ACLU now tells Wired that there could be times when a government agency would be justified in shutting down mobile services.
While academics, scholars and digital rights advocates develop and pen blogs for the masses, a protest is about to take place at 5 pm PT in San Francisco. This blog will be posting updates throughout the next couple of hours.
Here’s a live feed from the protest [Update: Replaced the one that was not really streaming anything.]:
All Times are Pacific Standard Time.
9:26 PM FCC to investigate.
9:21 PM CNET slide show of photos from the evening’s protest
9:07 PM Clarifications: SWAT was a rumor. No SWAT. San Francisco cops and BART police were deployed.
More importantly, the police shut down the stations. At no point did it seem like protesters were getting in the way of train operations. The protesters maintain they have a right to protest on the platform. The issue that BART is manufacturing involves their belief that people should not be able to assemble and protest on platforms. So, they chose a zero tolerance policy that involved shutting down any stations where people were demonstrating.
This decision is useful for one main thing: BART can blame the protesters for shutting down service and possibly turn San Francisco Bay area residents against the demonstration.
BARTtv already produced a propaganda video that went up on Friday last week. They have shown how devious they will be in their operations.
7:26 PM That concludes this action. It appears the protest is for the most part over. I’ll update here if anything happens. Nothing appears to have happened with the SWAT team. BART radio has chatter about police needing access.
@AnonyOps has called it a night: “*tired*. Excellent work, everyone. A huge thank you to those who attended and kept everything peaceful. #OpBartLive”
7:17 PM All stations open now. And, this message from @YourAnonNews:
“This is the 1st / best example of a hack supporting an IRL action.”
7:12 PM Egypt style? As SWAT arrives, ABC News feed goes dead.
7:06 PM Unconfirmed report now of cell phone service shut down at Market Station.
7:03 PM All corners of Market & Main occupied by protesters
7:00 PM Police threatening arrests. Some blocking of traffic going on at Embarcadero via @RaineyReitman
6:58 PM Lot of discussion on Embarcadero, Montgomery on radio. A report on Twitter of cops now telling protesters they must stay on sidewalk.
6:57 PM Via @pixplz here is photo of riot cops confronting protesters on escalator
6:50 PM SFPD to disperse protesters at Main & Market
6:47 PM SFPD have zip ties.
6:45 PM BART, it’s time for Protest 101. What the protesters are doing is peaceful protest. They are not engaged in civil disobedience. Stop with the announcements on the radio that “The civil disobedience continues! The civil disobedience continues!” No one is defying any law right now. No one is under threat of arrest. Everyone is obeying what police officers direct them to do.
6:40 PM BART cops have trapped people.
6:39 PM On radio: Two spotted going back into Civic Center. Be advised. They were texting. (Uh-oh.)
6:36 PM At Embarcadero, protesters are stopped by police.
6:28 PM All stations are now re-opened with the exception of Powell Street.
6:25 PM Police on the move with protesters following behind. Couple messages suggest police have been given order to arrest anyone disrupting BART service. [Wouldn't they always arrest people who disrupted service?]
6:13 PM Here is the BART radio feed. And SWAT team is still moving in. Protesters have headed into the Ferry Building.
6:07 PM According to BART radio, march down Powell Street did not cause any problems. Peaceful demonstration.
6:05 PM Reports of a SWAT Team inbound at Powell. (via @AnonyOps)
5:59 PM Not surprisingly, Montgomery to be shut down. Also, some protesters were chanting “16.” Police want to know what that means.
@SFBART (official Twitter feed of BART) tweeting updates on station shutdowns.
5:54 PM Protesters headed to Montgomery. The Muni is now having to skip stops because of the protest. Some trains are skipping stops because of the protests at some of the stations.
And here’s another riot police photo.
5:49 PM ABC local news affiliate’s helicopter cam with live coverage of protest. (There may not be a lot of people here but Anonymous sure has a way of attracting media attention.)
5:45 PM A couple Anons are following police radios and are reporting when police locate protesters and make decisions to shut down stations. Now, reports that 2nd & Market is being shut down.
5:41 PM Couple hundred protesters moving to Powell station. Reports now that BART will be shutting this station down. Gates are closed.
5:35 PM No scuffle. No civil disobedience. The peaceful protest on the platform has moved outside of the rail station.
5:30 PM Police officer declares protest on platform “unlawful assembly.” Makes announcement.
5:22 PM Thirty protesters (at least) on a platform, according to BART. [Here's one Anon.]
5:14 PM Multiple users tweeting that “undercovers” are handing out flyers and if anyone takes them they could be cited/arrested for littering. No way to verify this. Not sure if this could happen or not.
5:11 PM Police videotape a protest with about 100-200 present. Not much of a protest at all (yet).
5:09 PM Anonymous posts this statement. Also, it’s worth noting that a radio feed was found and people have been listening to BART staff chat on the radio. It’s probably maintenance.
5:05 PM As of now, according to @AnonyOps, around 120 people at Civic Center with 11 news trucks, 2 copters and no cops. From the scene.
5:00 PM @AnonyOps tweets:
4:56 PM First image of riot police protecting citizens “constitutional right to safety.”
4:45 PM Reports that riot cops and K-9 units are out. No exact details on where but one would presume they would be at Civic Center where the protest will be.
4:35 PM Someone with a camera was allegedly arrested by police. But it wasn’t the person who will be streaming the protest.
4:43 PM “No Justice, No BART” has issued this statement in response to BART’s shutdown