Last Thursday, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) controversially shut down cellular service in its stations to curb the efforts of demonstrators protesting the police shooting death of Charles Blair Hill back on July 3rd of this year. Discontent with BART police has been festering for quite some time following the wrongful shooting death of Oscar Grant in early 2009, which saw the officers in question charged with what many saw as unfairly lax sentences.
Debate rages as to whether or not BART authorities’ yanking of cell service was illegal or not. Police Lieutenant Andy Alkire told the SF Appeal that pulling communication channels turned out to be “a great tool to utilize for this specific purpose,” while others held that not only was it illegal — it was dangerous, especially in emergency situations.
SF Gate, for instance, offers that the move was in fact a violation of Federal law (emphasis added):
According to a citation issued January 26, 2011, by the Federal Communications Commission against Comtrex Communications for illegal cell phone jamming, Section 333 of the Communications Act of 1934 states, “[n]o person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this Act or operated by the United States Government.”
After noting that BART is not in fact a federal entity, they continue:
There’s no evidence provided by any BART representative that such legal issues were considered before initiating the cell phone blocking action – BART seems to have just plain went ahead and done it.
Yesterday, BART authorities braced for another wave of protests after hacktivist group Anonymous broke into their website and publicly posted the names, phone numbers, street addresses and email addresses of 2,000 company customers. The posting was accompanied by a decree calling for a real-life protest on Monday night.
Using Twitter hashtags like #BartOp and #MuBARTak — referencing the former Egyptian leader who pulled internet and telephone access in the country — protesters heeded the call of Anonymous and staged what many are appointing a real life DDoS (denial of service) attack, a term often used for the attacks staged against websites like Sony or Gawker.
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Reports are indicating that a few dozen protesters successfully managed to halt BART service when they took to stations during rush hour, causing authorities to close the Civic Center station and three others due to overcrowding. Many demonstrators wore the now-customary Guy Fawkes masks that have come to be associated with the hacktivist group.
Police indicate that no arrests were made, and cellular service was indeed functional during the protest.