Monday, January 28, 2013

In The Shadows

Occupy_nov17_PM_DSC_0083 (Photo credit: Michael Fleshman)
Recently the techno-geek darlings of the radical liberal left unleashed another cyber attack on a US Government agency whom members of the hacktivist group Anonymous hold responsible for the suicide of Anonymous 'member' Aaron Swartz.  Swartz was facing prosecution for disseminating files from the academic service JSTOR via P2P platforms.

Anonymous like to present themselves as we the people, the downtrodden, public spirited freedom fighters working tirelessly against a corrupt and unjust system.  Keyboard warriors seeking to damage those who repress the people, the hacktivists play on feelings of technophobia, conspiracy theory and a government controlled media in order to promulgate their own message to a world needing a hero.

We do need heroes, at times it does seem as if people in positions of power who are willing to do the right thing for the masses are in short supply.  What we do not need though is another shadowy sub grouping breaking laws in the name of the people, being answerable to nobody and claiming that their actions are for the benefit of the majority.

John Stuart Mill in his intellectual exercise on happiness and liberty Utilitarianism says that some people believe that "any law, judged to be bad, may blamelessly be disobeyed" and this is the doctrine the cyber groups hold to.  Mill though goes on to question the judgement itself, he contends that judgements in themselves may be subjective decisions, he recognises that there are diverse opinions and that there must be a balanced thought process which determines whether or not a law should be considered unjust.

Anonymous present their 'factual' video offerings in the style of introductory films to first person shooter video games, swelling martial music accompanies choppy, computer generated speech played over CGI graphics.  With a distinct target audience in mind, Anonymous market their theology as precisely as a mass media launch of the next Call of Duty game.

"To all Concerned and Truth Seekers,

It has come to our attention that our freedoms and rights are now being fully manipulated and taken away by our greedy and corrupted governments. These unconstitutional and unethical methods are being used on our very own people in order to push and pass laws that will eventually lead to us becoming slaves to the corrupted, and continue to feed the greedy hands with money." - from a press release on

Who should decide what is "unconstitutional and unethical" ? Should we have hidden groups practising internet warfare, or rather, no matter how difficult and complex it is, should we have alleged abuses of power and privilege brought before the legal system and the electorate.  Much of what these groups say chimes with a desire for openness and a surge of public protest that has brought groups like Occupy and Idle No More to the streets.  The key difference between Occupy and Anonymous though is the open nature of the former, the willingness of its loose coalition of members to stand up for their political beliefs in the public eye and media glare.  There may be many of us who disagree with the tactics of Occupy and its tent cities popping up in financial districts and cathedral steps, but its members are very much in the public gaze, they have made themselves by the very nature of their protest recognisable and accountable.

The hacker groups who claim to be fighting tirelessly on  our behalf has no such accountability.  They launch denial of service attacks against agencies whose ideologies or actions they disagree with, attacks launched partly in my name if they claim to be working on behalf of the people, but attacks over which I have not the slightest measure of control nor any hope of gaining such measure.  If my government directs the army of my nation against another nation or terrorist organisation and I disagree with their decision, then at the very least I can exercise my rights in a democratic society and participate in the electoral process to vote against them.

One of the most difficult things about the activities of Anonymous is that I find myself concurring with their choice of targets.  The attacks on Westboro Baptist Church, Syrian government websites and on-line paedophile networks (if media reports heavily influenced by the perpetrating group are to be believed) are all things I would agree with ideologically, if only they were done openly.  Other DoS attacks that Anonymous have been involved in I have less sympathy for, the actions around Pirate Bay, Megaupload, GoDaddy and JSTOR all cross into complex arguments of freedom of information versus copyright and the legal and moral right to assert control over products an individual or corporation has created.

I want the people who do actually represent me, and the people who claim to represent me, to both follow a good moral code, as Mill says, to weigh every action so that it does the most good, or if not then the least harm.  Anonymous wage cyber war with the slogan "We are Anonymous, we are legion, we do not forgive, we do not forget".  This is too hard line for me, we should all be able to forgive at least some of the hurts done to us.  Perhaps the hacktivists could look back to these lines penned by the English poet, lawyer and clergyman John Donne, who felt that as a race of people, we are all connected at some basic level...

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

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