BART vs. Anonymous: Dumb and dumber

What's worse: Cutting off cell service to thwart protesters or spilling the personal info of innocent people? BART and Anonymous are in a race to prove who's dumber

There are a lot of very smart people who live in the greater San Francisco area. Apparently none of them work for Bay Area Rapid Transit.

Certainly the functionaries who made the decision to block commuters' cellphones last week won't be taking home the grand prize on "Jeopardy" any time soon.

[ Cringley says it's a hacker's world, we just live in it and offers a lesson for would-be hacktivists in "When digital protest turns into cyber crime." | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]

Last Thursday BART attempted to thwart a public protest by turning off the mobile signal boosters in its underground stations, effectively shutting off communications with the outside world -– including 911 calls. The protestors were gathering to rage against last month's shooting of a drunk, knife-wielding homeless man by BART police.

Maybe the police were justified in shooting the guy. I wasn't there, so I don't know. (But I've watched the video, and I have to question why two cops carrying guns were unable to subdue one drunk guy with a knife without requiring a body bag.) People are certainly within their rights to protest police shootings. Otherwise we'd be living in a police state. Were the protestors violent? Doesn't look like it from the reports I've seen, though given what happened in London, it certainly could have turned ugly.

I'm sure it was all those reports about how the London riots were organized via BlackBerry that inspired BART to make this chowderhead move. But that's a little like closing all the paint stores to keep people from making signs. They will find another way to get it done, and you'll just look like a moron.

I have ridden BART many many many times. I have also ridden subway systems in New York, DC, London, Paris, Barcelona, and Seoul. Most of them have been impressively efficient, even if sometimes a little pungent (that would be New York). BART, though, not so much. Barely Adequate Rapid Transit might be a better acronym.

So it's not terribly surprising to me that some members of BART's board are still defending this tactic (though BART wisely didn't repeat it during subsequent protests this week) or that a transit spokeshuman issued the following statement:

"The platform area is deemed a non-public forum," BART spokesman Linton Johnson said. "A public forum area, which is outside the fare gates, you are allowed to exercise your right to free speech as long as you don't interfere with peoples' ability to get from Point A to Point B or interfere with their Constitutional right to safety.  Outside the fare gates, that's the public forum area.  Inside the fare gates is a non-public forum and by law, by the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court, there is no right to free speech there."

You might as well declare BART a separate country with its own laws. Also: No criticizing BART's on-time performance, or they'll lock you in one of those disgustingly filthy toilets.

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