A demonstrator wears a mask during a protest inside the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Civic Center station on Monday. The hacker group "Anonymous" staged a demonstration at a BART station this evening after BART officials turned off cell phone service in its stations last week during a disruptive protest following a fatal shooting of a man by BART police.
"We'll show you what happens when you mess with our rights."
That's pretty much what hackers were saying after they broke into a BART website and published personal information about thousands of transit agency subscribers on Sunday.
On one level, the hack attack seemed poetic justice. There's something almost-righteous when you see that kind of response -- sort of like when David hurled the rock at Goliath.
But beyond the "tit for tat," something much more fundamental to American society happened over the weekend.
Laws and rules are among the cornerstones that separate civil society from anarchy. The hackers were angry that BART denied them their "rights" by cutting off cell phone service last week to prevent disruptive protest activity over a previous confrontation that resulted in a death.
They claim BART had been irresponsible.
Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. It's the kind of thing that gets sorted out by the legal system, or at least should be. But the wheels of justice rarely travel quickly, even for a fast-paced transit system.
Instead of waiting for the judicial process to determine the responsible parties, the hackers decided to act on their own.
Ironically, by taking matters into their own hands, they broke the law and hurt thousands of innocent people along the way -- people who had nothing to do with their spat with BART. In the process, they pushed our culture one step closer to anarchy and one step further away from civil society.
American democracy provides a lot of room for civil disobedience as a way of expressing anger and frustration. That's what marches and rallies do. Even sit-ins. But when civil disobedience harms innocent people, such activity should not be tolerated.
Yesterday's hackers may be amused by the attention they brought to their cause. But beyond that, they revealed a contempt for the political process. The more these kinds of activities take place and are tolerated by the rest of us, the more endangered our democracy becomes.