By JOSHUA BRUSTEIN/The Associated Press
Anonymous, the loosely affiliated group of computer hackers, is planning a flesh-and-blood demonstration Monday afternoon in San Francisco to protest the Bay Area Rapid Transit cutting off underground cellphone service to thwart protesters.
Since Thursday, when BART temporarily shut down cellphone service in its tunnels to prevent a protest against police violence, the group has gone on the offensive. It hacked into myBart.org, a Web site for BART riders, and leaked the names, phone numbers and passwords of users.
Now it is calling for people to gather at the San Francisco Civic Center Bart Station at 5 p.m., wearing shirts stained with blood or paint. In addition to putting a call out on Twitter, the group said that it has sent an e-mail to the approximately 120,000 people it found on BART’s own mailing list, asking them to attend.
“Remember to bring your mask, and remember that this is a peaceful protest. Anonymous does not support violent action and it is discouraged,” the group said in a video posted online.
While Anonymous’s target is ostensibly the agency, leaking the names and passwords of riders has the potential to alienate those who it claims to support. The group acknowledged this danger, but ultimately blamed BART’s poor security for the breach.
“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 group wrote on the Web site where it posted the leaked information.
Linton Johnson, a spokesperson for the BART police department, jumped on the chance to portray the agency as a victim, saying that Anonymous had violated riders’ privacy. He said that BART has called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies to investigate the attack.
Anonymous has been very active in recent months, attacking the Web sites of major corporations and government agencies. But this action has been in the form of hacking attacks, not physical demonstrations. The group has held several large-scale demonstrations in the past, perhaps most notably a series of protests against the Church of Scientology in 2008.
But previous protests took weeks of planning, said Gregg Housh, an advocate affiliated with Anonymous who played a role in physical demonstrations in the past. The speed at which such actions can be organized is changing rapidly, a trend that has been on display across the globe this year.
“It used to be months, then weeks, now it’s days,” he said. “Soon it will be hours.”
Of course, it is unclear how many people will actually show up on Monday. But BART is not taking any chances. On Sunday, it posted an alert on its Web site warning riders of possible disruptions due to the protest.
Mr. Johnson, the agency spokesperson, said that as BART prepares for protests this afternoon and in the future, it would not rule out cutting cellphone service again. He said that the criticism the agency has received for its actions last week were misguided.
“The fact that people want to focus on the cellphone service, I think it’s an interesting argument, but people are forgetting the other constitutional right that allows government agencies to put people’s right to safety ahead of their right of expression,” he said. “We are allowed to designate the time, place and manner of free speech.”