SAN FRANCISCO – The online activist group Anonymous organized a protest Monday that caused Bay Area Rapid Transit officials to briefly close four stations in downtown San Francisco.
The protest began at 5 p.m., and was in response to actions taken by BART during an Aug. 11 demonstration, which focused on the shooting of a man by BART police in early July.
During the Aug. 11 demonstration, BART officials shut down cell and wireless internet service inside its stations to limit the ability of demonstrators to coordinate their activities. Explaining the move, BART officials cited safety concerns as the reason for its decision to block passengers’ access to communications. In a statement posted on its website, the agency argued that demonstrations inside BART stations “could lead to platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions.”
That response drew the ire of Anonymous, a web-based coalition of activists who organize protests on a range of issues. A press release issued by the group compared the shutdown of cell and internet service by BART administrators to the actions of the now-defunct authoritarian governments of Egypt and Tunisia. The release stated that BART should “not censor people because they wish to speak out against … wrongful things occurring around them.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California in a web posting that argued government agencies “shouldn’t be in the business of cutting off the free flow of information.”
The press release issued by Anonymous stated that the Aug. 15 protest was conceived as a way “to show those engaging in the censorship what it feels like to be silenced.”
According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the downtown stations started to close around 5:30 p.m. as police began dispersing protestors, and had all reopened two hours later, with no interruption to cell or internet service. BART Deputy Police Chief Daniel Hartwig was quoted as saying that safety concerns prompted the closures.