Last week, I blogged about Anonymous’ hack into the myBART website in response to BART shutting off cell phone service to avert a possible protest.
The controversy lives on as BART continues to endure protests and inquiries. For starters, the FCC has launched an investigation. I am by no mean a communications law expert, but I do not see anything that would indicate any statutes or regulations were broken. In fact, even FCC experts seem to be unsure.
That aside, there could be a First Amendment issue. In fact, this seems ripe for the ACLU, Public Citizen, or the Electronic Frontier Foundation to jump in to. The answer, however, is not that easy. Of course, we all have a right to free speech, as clearly stated in the First Amendment. That right is not unlimited and the government has a right to limit speech based on certain considerations. The question is whether the limitation in this instance was reasonable under the circumstances. I could go on for a long while about the long line of First Amendment cases and the standards governments must adhere to, but I know everyone does not want to get in trouble for falling asleep at their desks.
Aside from the legal questions, are the moral ones. The act by BART seems akin to the actions of totalitarian governments in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America and not of an agency in San Francisco (of all places). The continued protests and awareness are necessary to alert other governmental agencies that the public at large will not sit idly by in the face of heavy-handed tactics.
UPDATE: I think it’s important to add that, if they do not already, BART should have a compliance/action policy for turning off cell service in the future that is made public. The reality is they may want to undertake this action again in the future. Having a policy that is debated and settled upon with input from the public could help them heal people’s wounds.
Now some may say that there should be no policy because they should be prohibited from turning of cell service under any circumstances. That, however, ignores possible (though unlikely) scenarios. For instance, what if BART had credible information that there was a cell phone triggered incendiary device at a station? I think all would agree that is a permissible ground for turning off cell service.
SECOND UPDATE: I should add that news that BART police officer’s private information was revealed in another hack is unfortunate.