BART battles hackers, both sides lose

Is it warm in here or are Cringesters heatedly debating BART, Anonymous, and hacktivism? Cringely takes the temperature

Sparks have been flying here in Cringeville of late. It must be all those inflammatory topics I've been tackling.

But judging by the flames shooting out of my inbox, my post about the battle between hackers and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system generated the most heat.

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The backstory, for those who haven't been paying rapt attention: BART cops shot and killed an armed homeless man in a downtown San Francisco station in July. Organizers gathered to protest BART police actions; BART decided to turn off the signal boosters for everyone's cellphones during a protest, rendering e911 calls impossible and prompting an FCC inquiry. Hacker group Anonymous retaliated by breaching BART's database and releasing personally identifiable information for BART passengers and cops. More protests ensued, though the cellphone shutdown was not repeated.

At the end of my post I asked, "Was BART's mobile shutdown an egregious violation of our free speech rights or a smart and safe thing to do?" I got answers across all parts of the spectrum.

We'll start with reader J. L. M., who sides with BART:

It was the safest thing to do, especially in light of the recent idiocy in London. Anonymous needs to grow up. They seem to have absolutely no concern for public safety or the rule of law.

But Cringester R. M. weighs in from the other side:

I think the actions of BART were totally wrong; I hope the FCC holds them responsible. Don't shoot the messenger. Especially that 911 service was cut off is totally wrong .... I thank you for publishing this report. If nothing else, I hope it prevents some other officials from repeating such a stupid and dangerous act.

Cringe fan S. T. suggests the situation is not as black and white as it seems. He also compliments me on my backward-gazing crystal ball and suggests I point it forward for a change.

It easy to use 20/20 [hindsight] and say BART should have done things differently. At this time with information going viral at the drop of a cell phone, they jumped to a non-positive conclusion. On the other side it would have been even worse had the situation gone the other way, with protesters getting completely out of line (riots, anyone?). …Maybe your crystal ball is clearer than most, you might think about sharing it before an incident rather than after.

I've been trying to adjust the settings on that crystal ball for years, if only to do a better job playing the market. So far, no luck.

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