Guest post by OXBLOOD RUFFIN
If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
— Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Whitney v. California
Any discussion of Anonymous is problematic. One is never sure which Anonymous is being referenced: the meme, the group as a whole, or an individual operation. And the press doesn’t appear to know or care. It has gone into a rapturous fap over the loose knit collective, declaring them, inter alia, the most influential group in the world, terrorists, and – wait for it – very dangerous hackers. This last descriptor is particularly amusing. There are, in fact, so few real hackers within Anonymous that they could petition the U.N. as an endangered species.
Anonymous (the group) has exaggerated its technical abilities much like men in bars exaggerate their sexual prowess, with the press playing the role of gullible mark. One case in point is Operation Payback. In December 2010 Anonymous was enraged that Wikileaks donations were cut by Paypal over terms of service violations. 4500 volunteers were recruited to download a faulty attack tool intended to shut Web access to the site. It didn’t work. When this was discovered one Anonymous hacker aimed his botnet at Paypal and took it offline almost immediately. The supporters were not so lucky. Anonymous deliberately exaggerated the safety of the attack tool to its hapless allies. Many were arrested.
Anonymous is a public relations pandemic with an exaggeration problem, not a treacherous horde. It’s time the press learned the difference.
The collective also has an odd understanding of Web censorship. Anonymous claims to be fighting for Internet freedom but doesn’t care much for free speech. If an individual or organization says or does something the freedom fighters don’t like, websites are defaced or subjected to DDoS attacks. Never mind that free speech and access to information are basic human rights and the cornerstones of democracy. Digital vigilantism is Anonymous’ modus operandi. In the Blackhat world – the underlying ethos of the collective – it’s tit for tat. If you do something to me, or one of my friends, I’ll do something to you. Tribal justice for the twenty-first century.
Apologists for the Shut Uppa You Face, I’m Not Like What You Say approach see things differently. This isn’t censorship, it’s civil disobedience. Non-violence, Gandhiji, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are shuffled into the deck and dealt out as trump cards. The only problem with this argument is that it doesn’t quite work. The moral underpinnings and practice of nonviolent civil disobedience – from Tolstoy to Tibetan resistance – are based on physical presence. Break an unjust law, be arrested, put a strain on the system, have one’s day in court, argue for justice, sway public opinion. That is civil disobedience; not hiding behind a firewall as a casual vandal. The Occupy movement knows what civil disobedience is. Anonymous does not.
While it’s easy to pillory Anonymous, fairness demands that it be praised when it has acted well. Operation Leakspin and ventures in support of Arab Spring are cases in point. Leakspin was an investigative project encouraging people to analyze Wikileaks cables and post videos of research onto YouTube. Arab Spring operations partnered with democracy activists on the ground and trained novices in best practices online, and set up proxy servers. A difference was made and participating Anons deserve a pat on the back for these actions. It should also be noted that mainstream media coverage of these operations was rather thin. Productive work from the computer underground usually gets a pass.
And then there is Anonymous India.
These bad boys have clearly gotten the Indian press in a tizzy. Anonymous! In India?!? We done has better write about this shizzle, NOW. Indian Anons were probably involved in offshore operations before setting up shop in India. The group first grabbed headlines in support of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare. Websites were defaced, DDoSing was done, lulz were had. Although there was a slight difference in their behaviour from other Anonymous cadres. In June 2011, Anonymous India faced sharp public criticism over its attack of an Indian army website. After internal discussion, even much disagreement, consensus was reached. Anonymous India announced through its then Twitter page that the army and government websites were off limits. If only.
Anonymous India and Why This Kolaveri di have two things in common. Both have achieved their fame through the Internet. And both are engagingly superficial. While it’s easy to take cheap shots, there’s nothing funny about Anonymous India’s motivations. The group’s recent spate of Web defacements, DDoS attacks, and data theft are in response to a Madras High Court order. The order directs ISPs to block hundreds of websites in an attempt to prevent pirated copies of one particular film. Anonymous India has made a number of demands to the government which clearly won’t be met. Cybercrime – and acts of what some hysterical officials are calling cyberterrorism – as a bargaining tool is a non-starter with government officials. So what to do?
On June 9th Anonymous has organized a series of protests throughout India to protest the 2011 IT Act that enabled the Madras High Court order. Doubtless, people will show up. The IT Act has been a finger in India’s eye ever since it was passed. But can Anonymous India get the job done? The simple answer is no. The Indian government won’t listen to a single word they say. In fact, Anonymous India has given authorities ammunition to tighten up the IT Act even further in response to their actions. Getting press can be good for the ego but it can set back the objective. I doubt Anonymous India has any interest in my opinion, but here it is.
Anonymous India has proved that it can muster support and organize. The June 9th protests are proof of that. Funnelling committed activists into any number of well-positioned civil society organizations could make a serious difference. Many of these NGOs are reaching out to parliamentarians and bureaucrats. These same groups have highly competent lawyers to mount legal challenges to the IT Act. It’s one thing to make a quick splash with the press. It’s quite another to be strategic and leverage momentum in a direction the system can’t ignore. Change does not happen overnight, but it can happen over time and with significant results. Anonymous India doesn’t have to enter the system. However, it can influence it from without. And also be aware of this.
Indian Anons can continue their hacking spree. They can also be arrested. One shouldn’t allow youthful hubris to enable denial. The history of Anonymous is littered with fractured lives who’ve had to deal with huge fines and lengthy jail sentences. The Lulzsec crew, Anonymous’ most iconic hackers have all been collared but one. Sabu, its ring leader, was doxed by an American housewife. Kayla, the most anonymous of the lot was picked up by law enforcement. Being found out is not so difficult for anyone who is not a pure Blackhat, which I seriously doubt any of the Indian team is. The Internet doesn’t forget footprints.
Anonymous India can be part of the solution, or part of the arrest warrant.
(Oxblood Ruffin is a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow publishing and hacktivist collective. Follow @OxbloodRuffin on Twitter.)