(MintPress)— Thoreau. Gandhi. King. Anonymous? In his autobiography, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote, “I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” King, like Mohandas K. Gandhi and David Henry Thoreau before, believed that the civil disobedience was essential to democracy, and an […]
(MintPress)— Thoreau. Gandhi. King. Anonymous?
In his autobiography, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote, “I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” King, like Mohandas K. Gandhi and David Henry Thoreau before, believed that the civil disobedience was essential to democracy, and an essential element in bringing about social change. In nineteenth century America, a disgust for slavery and the Mexican-American War led Thoreau to set out to “clog the machine” of government, because as he concluded when the machine was producing injustice, it was the duty of conscientious citizens to be “a counter friction” (i.e., a resistance) “to stop the machine.”
For Gandhi, the twentieth-century cause of Indian independence from British rule spurred the development of a tool to fight for civil rights and freedom that he called satyagraha, Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent protest to achieve political and social progress was based upon ahimsa, as he called it, or total nonviolence.
King, in 1964, became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination in the US through civil disobedience. Protest marches, boycotts, public speeches and writings condemning injustice and other forms of non-cooperation were tools which each of these dissenting voices used to get their points across.
Today, however, twenty-first century injustices are being battled in a very twenty-first century way: via technology.
Not You Grandmother’s Civil Disobedience
A group of hacktivists (a portmanteau of computer hacker and activist) called Anonymous have been engaging in the nouveau form of civil disobedience – techie style .
The group has been making headlines over the past year. In January 2012, Anonymous hacked the United States Justice Department and several major entertainment companies and trade groups websites in retaliation for the seizure of Megaupload, a service which allowed users to transfer large files like movies and music anonymously.
The group then hacked a phone conversation by the FBI and Scotland Yard later in the month, where the two entities were recorded in a conversation about their joint investigation of the group and its allies. Anonymous posted it along with a Twitter comment reading, “The FBI might be curious how we’re able to continuously read their internal comms for some time now.”
Later the same day as the leaked phone call, Anonymous took responsibility for hacking the Web site of a law firm that had represented Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who was accused of leading a group of Marines responsible for killing 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005. The group then made other material related to the case public, taken from the site of Puckett & Faraj, a Washington-area law firm.
Who Is Anonymous?
So who is behind this twenty-first century civil-disobedience force? Well, the New York Times defines Anonymous as “a loosely affiliated group of activist computer hackers who got their start years ago as cyberpranksters, an online community of tech-savvy kids more interested in making mischief than political statements,” while noting that recently “coordinated attacks on major corporate and government Web sites suggest that Anonymous has come of age, evolving into a group that is focused on more serious matters.” While the anonymous nature of Anonymous’ members make it difficult to tell if they are in fact “kids’ as the Times asserts, it is accurate to describe their recent attacks as sophisticated attempts at seeking justice, which drive right to the heart of the definition of civil disobedience.
Philosophy Professor Peter Sauber of Earlham College writes,“ The purpose of civil disobedience can be to publicize an unjust law or a just cause; to appeal to the conscience of the public; to force negotiation with recalcitrant officials” and it would seem these are just the outcomes the folks at Anonymous are aiming for.
Anonymous released an official manifesto last year, describing itself as a “decentralized non-violent resistance movement, which seeks to restore the rule of law and fight back against the organized criminal class.” The group, which also at the time called for US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke to resign (and suggested he change his email password), pledged to engage in “a relentless campaign of non-violent, peaceful, civil disobedience.”
The group has a blog alerting readers to its activities. Recent entries include defacing the website of the Greek Ministry of Justice, and taking down a major Greek TV channel, the Greek Prime Minister, the National Police, the Ministry of Finance, the Greek Parliament and the Minister of finance Evangelos Venizelos’ personal site, after the Greek Parliament approved a bill securing a second European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout and avoid national bankruptcy. Anonymous said it sided with those in Greece who protested the deal, writing on it’s blog, “No more IMF! Stop the intervention in Greek sovereignty. If you don’t give Democracy a chance, you should Expect Us!”
Just last week, websites belonging to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the National Consumer Protection Week were accessed by Anonymous in an effort to thwart the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which aims to curb online piracy. Critics say measures such as ACTA will limit freedom of expression and enable censorship on the web. While 20 countries have signed on to the deal, at least four have backed away from it, two of them doing so on Friday. After Anonymous hacked the websites, the Eastern European nations of Poland and Slovenia bowed out of support for ACTA.
While the Trade Commission confirmed that the sites had been compromised in email stating that the sites were taken down “until we’re satisfied that any vulnerability has been addressed”, according to the Huffington Post, Anonymous took responsibility for taking large amounts of personal data from Trade Commission employees, including banking statements to dating website information, the report said.
The Trade Commission said that “the nature of the site limits information that could have been accessed,” and it is still investigating Friday’s hack.
And, experts are predicting that more hacktivists will be engaging in the very modern dissent in the future.
Noting a rise in hacktivist attacks in 2011 from groups such as Anonymous, security experts and technologists say hacktivists, who disrupted loads of websites and exposed troves of data from big companies and government entities are comparing notes, “They are learning from each other,” Kris Harms principal consultant of network security firm Mandiant told USA Today. “Corporations and governments need to recognize (more) break-ins are inevitable. In 2011, we saw organized crime groups using malware that was historically used by nation-state sponsored attack groups, and we’ve seen hacktivists using techniques more common to organized crime.
Josh Shaul, chief technology officer at Application Security stated in the article, “Recruits are lining up, and hackers are teaching classes to get more people in on the action.” The success that hacktivists have been able to achieve is one reason cited for this, and organizations “having their networks breached and confidential data displayed for the world to see,” Shaul believes will be a wake-up call for many.
A Twitter feed for the group warns of “regularly scheduled Friday attacks” in order to wipe out “corrupt and corporate and government systems off our internet”.