'Flash mobs' vs. law and order: BART protest adds fresh twist
Social media 'flash mobs' are becoming integral to the organization of protests. BART officials shut down cellphone service to thwart a protest Thursday. What will BART do Monday?
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But to the "hacktivists" of Anonymous, who see themselves as defenders of unfettered access to information, it was an attack on free speech. Anonymous responded Sunday by hacking into a BART website and posting the names, home addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers of thousands of Bay Area residents that were in BART's database.
"We do not tolerate oppression from any government agency," Anonymous said in its note posted on MyBart.org. "BART has proved multiple times that they have no problem exploiting and abusing the people."
To some observers, Anonymous's hacking tactics are hypocritical.
“They have an ethical responsibility to treat others the way they would like to be treated,” says Villanova University communications professor Len Shyles. “Would they be happy if some group stole their secrets and publicized them for all to see? Clearly if you adopt the premise to not do unto others as you would have them not do to you, these people are in violation.”
Anonymous defended its action: “We apologize to any citizen that has his information published, but you should go to BART and ask them why your information wasn't secure with them. Also, do not worry, probably the only information that will be abused from this database is that of BART.”
Experts are watching to see how BART responds to Monday's call for protests.
BART spokesman Jim Allison told the Los Angeles Times that BART expects further attempts to disrupt its online presence and has brought in specialists from the Department of Homeland Security for assistance.
But Professor Levinson calls BART's move to cut service "a blatant violation of the First Amendment” and adds: “Governments would be wise to take this revolution seriously and not disable it by even a well-meaning but unnecessary limit on smartphones and 'flash mobs' in response to a summer of hooligans.”
Legal scholars say the clashes will raise the issue of where to draw the line between free speech and public safety, which may have to be cleared up in the courts.