Updates by Lisa Pickoff-White

Update 7:17 p.m. All stations are now open, according to BART. Thanks for following, we’re signing off.

Update 6:47 p.m. Powell Street Station is still disembark only, and all other stations are open, according to BART. An annoyed passenger called into our newsroom to complain that people can still not get onto Embarcadero trains though. BART says in a statement that Embarcadero is open, but police chatter and 511 statements say it’s only for people disembarking.

Update 6:23 p.m. Civic Center has been reopened for entrances and exists, police on the scanner are discussing closing the Embarcadero Station. Protesters are shouting “how do you spell murderer, SFPD.”

KQED Reporter Mina Kim took photos of the protest at Civic Center.

Update 6:14 p.m. Protesters reach Embarcadero. Trains are now stopping at Civic Center and Powell so that passengers can disembark, according to BART.

Update 6:03 p.m. Sansome Street exit is now the only one open at Montgomery Street Station. Muni is no longer stopping at Montgomery, Powell or Civic Center.

You can watch the protesters march down Market Street on ABC7 News.

Update 5:54 p.m. BART announced that Powell Street Station is closed. Protesters are heading both up Market toward Powell, and toward the 16th Street Station.

BART says that it will now start stopping trains at Civic Center to allow passengers to disembark.

There is discussion on the scanner of closing Montgomery Station.

Update 5:40 p.m. KQED’s Mina Kim reports that after about a dozen protesters tried to stop an East Bay bound train, about 20 BART police descended on them and began to close the center. Protesters have dispersed, some wearing Guy Fawkes masks, she says.

Announcements on a BART police scanner imply that they are now beginning to run trains through Powell station as well.

@abc7newsBayArea reports that entrances to the Powell St. BART station are closed but trains are stopping there.

Can BART legally restrict the free speech rights of protesters on BART property? For more, host Cy Musiker talks with Professor Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law at the UCLA School of Law.

Update 5:30 p.m. BART has officially closed Civic Center, trains are just running through the station. Police say that they will begin arresting any protesters in five minutes, according to Mission Loc@l.

Update 5:21 p.m.Frank Chu is at the protest, marking it as a true San Francisco affair. On Ustream he announced that “cops are covering up murder cases and stealing my money as a movie star in a thousand zegnatronic galaxies.”

Update 4:55 p.m. The Federal Communications Department has announced it will investigate whether BART violated the law by shutting down cell phone service last week at four stations.

KQED’s Mina Kim reports that a small group of protesters have gathered inside Civic Center BART, and that there is a large police presence. Phone service has not been cut off.

You can view live coverage of the protest from Mission Local.

Update 4:00 p.m. Even Al Jazeera is reporting on this story. BBC too.

Original post

Screenshot of the myBART web site after it was hacked this weekend

KQED’s Rachel Dornhelm spoke to BART spokesman Linton Johnson this morning about the weekend incident in which the transit agency’s web site was defaced and the personal information of myBART.org users published online by the hacker activist group known as Anonymous. The group targeted BART for cutting off cell phone service Thursday in order to short-circuit a planned protest related to the shooting death by BART police of Charles Hill last month. The protest, ultimately, did not occur.

“This group anonymous violated a fundamental constitutional right of our customers and that is their right to privacy,” Johnson told Rachel Dornhelm. “They took their personal information and exposed it on the web for all to see. And we find that shocking. (And) they do that under the cloak of protecting a different constitutional right – the right to free speech. I am just stunned and I think our customers are upset as well.”

Johnson also said he didn’t believe BART violated any constitutional rights when it shut off cell service. He repeatedly made the point that the constitutional right to safety trumped the right to free speech. He cited a previous protest over the Hill case as dangerous to passengers.

“There was somebody who jumped on top of the train car,” Johnson said of the incident.”My heart stopped. That moment when I saw that happen, I was scared to death that that guy would hurt himself or kick in a window and splatter glass all over one of our other passengers, violating another constitutional right that other people aren’t talking about, and that is a constitutional right to safety. And on the platform the right to safety is paramount. The right to be able to express your opinion ends basically at the fare gate, where you have to have a ticket… We can’t have chaos on the platform because people can get hurt…The right to safety is paramount.

“Where we would we be if we had specific knowledge on Thursday, the exact day and time and location and and tactics these protesters wanted to use, creating an (even more) chaotic situation than the one on July 11? If we had let that gone through, what would you be questioning me about today if someone had kicked in a window and splattered glass, injuring several of our customers?…You wouldn’t be asking me about cell phones, you’d be asking me what did you know, when, and what did you do about it?

BART spokesman Linton Johnson says he doesn’t think BART violated constitutional rights, and that the hacker group Anonymous did

On the right to safety vs. freedom of speech

On whether BART would suppress cell phone use again during a planned protest

On reports that shutting down cell phones was his idea

Anonymous is calling for a peaceful protest today at 5 p.m. at Civic Center, which you can hear in this video from the group. In the video, an electronically altered voice, speaking over rather ominous music, lauds the recent social networking efforts that played a role in the Arab uprisings, before turning to BART.

“Blocking communication of cell phone devices is unacceptable. The Bay Area Rapid Transit has decided that blocking cellular communications is the correct way to scare off protesters. To the Bay Area Rapid Transit, by performing this action you have not only threatened your citizens’ safety, but you have also performed an act of censorship. By doing this, you have angered Anonymous.”

The comparison of BART’s action to those recently taken by autocratic regimes is not just being made by hackers. This post by Rebecca Farmer of the ACLU of Northern California also speaks to that point of view. An extract:

Pop quiz: where did a government agency shut down cell service yesterday to disrupt a political protest? Syria? London? Nope. San Francisco.

The answer may seem surprising, but that’s exactly what happened yesterday evening. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) asked wireless providers to halt service in four stations in San Francisco to prevent protestors from communicating with each other. The action came after BART notified riders that there might be demonstrations in the city.

All over the world people are using mobile devices to organize protests against repressive regimes, and we rightly criticize governments that respond by shutting down cell service, calling their actions anti-democratic and a violation of the rights to free expression and assembly. Are we really willing to tolerate the same silencing of protest here in the United States?

BART director Lynette Sweet has also criticized the action. State Senator and San Francisco mayoral candidate Leland Yee issued a statement that he was “shocked that BART thinks they can use authoritarian control tactics.”

Update 1:10 p.m.

At a news teleconference this afternoon, a reporter insinuated that the attack on myBART should have been easy to detect, and asked when was the last time BART’s web security had been audited. Johnson told the reporter to file a public records act request, and said, “I want to reiterate we’re the victims here.” A debate then ensued on BART’s culpability in the breach of private user information.

Listen below:

The issue of BART’s online security

Protesters Shut Down Four BART Stations Monday 16 August,2011Jon Brooks

  • The fact that Anonymous were able to gain access this information indicates that BART did not treat the personal information of the citizens who employ them with the respect it deserves. I don’t completely support the way they went about doing so, but I thank Anonymous for exposing this flaw. We’ll likely never know who else has or had access to the information.

    BART staff shutting down mobile communications in public transit facilities in order to avoid public protest of BART actions was completely inappropriate. That they do not see the restriction of speech this creates is frightening.

    From police to public relations, BART is sorely in need of staffing changes.

    • Kudos,

      BART is failing all around. Poor service, poor P.R., poor security, poor policing habits. High prices. They need to see their wrongs, own up to them, and attempt to correct them. If you serve the public, expect public outrage when you do wrong. Simple concept.

      The cell tower shut down topic would require a much longer response not suited for the iPad keyboard.

      Get a new Spokesman BART, That’s a start.

  • Veronica Lubeck

    Linton Johnson made a good point on CNN. Suppose somebody had been seriously injured at the platform level during this planned demonstration, who would be blamed for that? Bart had emergency help on hand, and cell service was only blocked out at platform level. Get over it folks, and be thankful that you were protected, at least this time.

    • Veronica asked, “Suppose somebody had been seriously injured at the platform level during this planned demonstration, who would be blamed for that?”. That depends on who caused the injury.

      Suppose there were rumors of a public protest of police misconduct in your neighborhood, so “in order to keep you safe,” your police had the telecommunications companies disable telephone and Internet service to your neighborhood. Does that seem like a reasonable response from the government of self-governed people? Would you think, “Gee, someone could have been seriously injured at that protest, so I’m glad the police simply cut off communications among my neighbors until we settled down and stopped complaining about police misconduct”?

    • Suppose someone non-protest related had a serious emergency, and needed to contact someone as well. The argument applies equally.

  • Kirby Carmichael

    Where in the Constitution are we guaranteed safety? And how do the two murders by BART police (unarmed Oscar Grant & Charles Hill) constitute promotion of public safety?

    Free speech rights ALWAYS trump safety concerns except in the very narrow area of speech which is false and intended and imminently likely to incite violations of the law. The fact that Anonymous has declared that “…”any actions trying to incite violence in our protest are not of our people…” clearly defines its intent as within the scope of protected First Amendment speech.

    Lynton Johnson and BART should research our Constitution at least minimally before making sweeping statements about Constitutional guarantees of safety and BART’s authority to arbitrarily censor protected free speech. Additionally, since the two BART murders occurred within the space of a ten-year period, perhaps a Federal RICO investigation into BART ‘safety’ activities is warranted.

    Apparently, BART additionally thinks that it has the right to censor what passengers on its trains may discuss with each other: “No person shall …engage in … expressive activities in… BART cars and trains and BART station platforms.” (http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/90057174?Hackers to lead protest against BART Monday)

  • Jim

    Arguably, Article 1 Section of the CA State Constitution. See below.
    Yes, the “other expressive activities” phrase is a complete howler – please find a lawyer who thinks that one could be enforceable as written…

    1. All people are by nature free and independent and have
    inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and
    liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing
    and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.

  • tech385

    I don’t care to much about bart turning off the internet/wifi. I’m upset the fact that bart operators/headquarters changed my original train (Richmond) to (BayPoint/Pitts).

    Bart changed my destination in the middle of the protesting (Civic Center) telling us that this train is now a BayPoint train. Made everyone who was on the Richmond train get out at the Civic Center platforms. I think bart are control freaks and they favor the middle class people (Walnut creek/Concord) That was whack or them to do that

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor