Unidentified hackers broke into a San Francisco mass transit website, posting workers’ personal details and deepening the debate over governmental rights to restrict mobile communications.
Hackers Wednesday exposed 102 names, physical addresses and passwords taken from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Police Officer’s Association website. They did so in retaliation over BART’s decision last Thursday to shut down mobile networks on its trains to prevent a planned protest.
Anonymous hacktivists deny involvement in this breach, attributing it to “some random joe,” though they claimed responsibility for two BART website attacks earlier this week.
BART transit officials shut down bartpoa.com shortly after the hack, labeling it as “cowardly.”
“We roundly condemn it. It’s just putting more people in jeopardy,” said Deputy Police Chief Ben Fairow. “Their personal information is out there. BART police officers are used to working in a dangerous environment. What they’re not used to is having their families put in jeopardy.”
Both these unnamed hackers and Anonymous used cyber-attacks to protest BART’s last week clampdown on mobile communications, likely the first suspension of its kind in the U.S. The legality of the blackout remains in question, with the FCC investigating whether BART officials acted too rashly in quelling public phone calls.
If the FCC declares BART acted illegally, its members may face fines, sentences and closer governmental scrutiny. If not, however, an FCC stamp of approval may give other U.S. transit organizations and public works departments the authority to cut off wireless service at their discretion.
For BART’s chief spokesman Linton Johnson, an FCC all-clear would validate his controversial action. Johnson on Tuesday claimed responsibility for cutting power in San Francisco’s underground train stations, saying it was necessary to ensure public safety. He argues the decision prevented any transit delays and platform chaos last Thursday’s planned protest may have caused.
But for Anonymous and its supporters, an FCC approval would smack of vindicating former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s move to blackout his country’s mobile networks during the Arab Spring. The U.S. at the time condemned his approach, but Anonymous fears BART’s recent move may set a similar precedent for dampening freedom of speech.
Anonymous and supporters, consequently, are using cyber-attacks and even real-life protests at BART stations to dispel any sympathy for the transit authority’s actions. Monday saw masked protestors wielding cell phones crowd into downtown San Francisco stations during rush hour, prompting police in riot gear to close several platforms.
Ironically, BART initially clamped down on cell phone networks last week to avoid such a scene. The original protest, which never happened, aimed to condemn BART police officers for fatally shooting a homeless man.
In its efforts to prevent a large-scale outcry over the death of the 45-year-old man, BART has landed itself not only FCC but also FBI and Homeland Security investigations pertaining to the hacks. Depending on the FCC’s ruling, such a scene may soon repeat itself in another U.S. city.