Hackers from "Anonymous" broke into a website for San Francisco's mass transit system Sunday and posted contact information for more than 2,000 subscribers, the latest showdown between anarchists angry at perceived attempts to limit free speech and officials trying to control protests that grow out of social networking and have the potential to become violent.
Bay Area Rapid Transit officials blocked underground cellphone service for a few hours Thursday at several stations as protesters tried to use social networking to organize a demonstration over the recent fatal shooting of a 45-year-old man by police. The decision was criticized by many as heavy handed, and some raised questions about whether the move violated free speech.
Anonymous responded Sunday by posting the names, phone numbers, and street and email addresses of a Bay Area Rapid Transit website's subscribers. The hackers got the information from a database of 55,000 subscribers who receive alerts and other information from the transit agency's MyBart.org, BART spokesman Jim Allison said.
He did not know if the group had obtained information from all the subscribers. No personal financial information, such as bank accounts or credit card information was listed, according to Allison.
Bay Area Rapid Transit district officials said they were attempting to shut down the hackers' website, which contained the confidential information. The agency has notified the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, Allison said.
"We are Anonymous, we are your citizens, we are the people, we do not tolerate oppression from any government agency," the hackers wrote in an online posting. "BART has proved multiple times that they have no problem exploiting and abusing the people."
Laura Eichman was among those whose e-mail and home phone number were posted.
"I think what they (the hackers) did was illegal and wrong. I work in IT myself, and I think that this was not ethical hacking. I think this was completely unjustified," Eichman said.
She said she doesn't blame BART and feels its action earlier in the week of blocking cell phone service was reasonable.
"It doesn't necessarily keep me from taking BART in the future but I will certainly have to review where I set up accounts and what kind of data I'm going to keep online," Eichman said.
The group Anonymous, according to its website, does "not tolerate oppression from any government agency," and it said it was releasing the User Info Database of MyBart.gov as one of many actions to come.
"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 employees," the statement said.
Facing backlash from civil rights advocates and one of its own board members, BART has defended the decision to block cell phone use, with spokesman Jim Allison saying the cell phone disruptions were legal because the agency owns the property and infrastructure.
"I'm just shocked that they didn't think about the implications of this. We really don't have the right to be this type of censor," Lynette Sweet, who serves on BART's board of directors, said previously. "In my opinion, we've let the actions of a few people affect everybody. And that's not fair."
BART officials on Sunday were also working a strategy to try to block plans by protesters to try to disrupt BART service Monday.
"We're making preparations to try to prevent any unsafe conditions on the platform," Allison told the San Jose Mercury News. "I'm not going to discuss any specifics, other than to say we're preparing."
The American Civil Liberties Union has also questioned Thursday's incident. The ACLU has a scheduled meeting with BART's police chief on Monday about other topics and the cellphone issue will added be to the agenda, spokeswoman Rebecca Farmer said.