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How BART Protests & Anonymous Could Change U.S. Society

Anonymous & San Francisco’s BART Protests

I was in the middle of my high school years when the song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)” by The Mamas & the Papas became an instant hit in the United States, England and most of Europe. It even became a rallying song for Czechoslovakia’s 1968 Prague Spring uprising. The world changed.

Anonymous & San Francisco’s BART Protests

I was in the middle of my high school years when the song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)” by The Mamas & the Papas became an instant hit in the United States, England and most of Europe. It even became a rallying song for Czechoslovakia’s 1968 Prague Spring uprising. The world changed.

BART Protests and AnonymousI spent the rest of the 60’s and early 70’s living the life of a geek, before being a geek was cool. I missed Woodstock, Flower Power and, unfortunately, Free Love. Advanced Topology better fit my social skills. Yet, even today, whenever someone speaks about the city of San Francisco, I can hear (with nostalgia) Scott McKenzie singing about flowers and love.

My idealistic remembrance of San Francisco was recently shattered by news of protestors and the hacktivist group Anonymous. However disturbing and out-of-character this event was for San Francisco (at least to my mind), I find the entire sequence of events to be a fascinating reflection of our times.

San Francisco’s BART Protests

This tale begins with the shooting of Charles Blair Hill (reported as a “wobbly drunk”) by BART police on July 4. This event was followed by a July 11 demonstration where several people were arrested for disrupting service during the rush-hour commute, which prompted the closing of Bay Area Rapid Transit system’s (BART) Civic Center station. The demonstrators, who stopped trains by climbing on top of them, organized their efforts via cell phones (which seems to be the norm nowadays).

On August 11, in what is viewed as a controversial move, BART officials, after learning of another protest, turned off electricity to cellular towers in four BART stations, effectively shutting down communication between protestors. Perhaps because of the lack of cell communication, the August 11 protests never happened.

As one might imagine, the reactions to this unprecedented action was immediate and diverse. Reactions ranged from Northern California’s ACLU writing a letter to the FCC, calling BART the “first known government agency in the United States to block cell service in order to disrupt a political protest.” BART reacted stating, “No person shall conduct or participate in assemblies or demonstrations or engage in other expressive activities in the paid areas of BART stations, including BART cars and trains and BART station platforms.”

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The comparison between BART’s action and Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s shut down of cell service and the Internet during the Tahrir Square protests was inevitable. The quote: “BART Pulls a Mubarak in San Francisco” was frequently used.

Anonymous’ Role in the BART Protests


Of particular interest to me was the hacktivist group Anonymous’ involvement in the protests. With its publicly stated goal of protecting the rights of the masses against big business and government, Anonymous launched several successful attacks on the BART website ( as well as other city websites. These sites were defaced and subjected to data breaches that collected private information of citizens using the BART system. Complicating matters more for city officials, Anonymous’ actions were also timed to support and encourage the actions of the public protestors.

Anonymous, never to sit by quietly when credit is to be had, issued several messages to BART as well as to the public:

A released Anonymous video with eerie computer generated audio stated, “by (cutting cell service), you have not only threatened your citizens’ safety, you have also performed an act of censorship… By doing this, you have angered Anonymous.”

During a TV interview, a disguised Anonymous member said, “we’re filled with indignation, when a little organization like BART… kills innocent people, two or three of them in the last few years, and then has the nerve to also cut off the cell phone service and act exactly like a dictator in the Mideast. How dare they do this in the United States of America.”

Not only has my idealistic view of San Francisco been tarnished, but it also appears two U.S. society changing events have occurred. First, the government’s use of communication (or lack of) to control the public had been seen, and widely vilified, in other countries but never before in the United States. And second, I believe this is the first time public protests have been combined with physical attacks (mobs in the BART station) as well as cyber attacks (Anonymous’ defacement and data breach of BART and other government sites). Both changes will undoubtedly ripple through the press a well as the action of government and the public in the coming months. It will be a fascinating time for us all.

Related Reading: How Operation Payback and Hacktivism are Rocking the ‘Net

Related Reading: AntiSec Movement Continues Assault on Law Enforcement

Related Reading: Turkish Police Detain 32 Suspects Allegedly Linked to Anonymous

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