Anonymous shut down the FBI’s official website citing retaliation for shuttering Megaupload and arresting its executives in New Zealand.
Shockwaves virtually reverberated across cyberspace Thursday, after the FBI shut down Megaupload.com. The Hong Kong-based content hosting site – also arguably one on the net’s most heavily visited sites – distributed a wide variety of content including music and movies.
The action prompted a group of hacktivists, known only as Anonymous and going by the moniker @YourAnonNews on Twitter, to shut down the FBI’s official website on Thursday, citing retaliation for shuttering Megaupload and arresting its executives in New Zealand. The sordid events of the past week are the latest conquests in an epic battle ramping up between free-speech advocates and U.S. lawmakers.
Distilling the problems
Thursday’s activities came on the heels of a series of protests of bills that lawmakers in the U.S. are considering to combat piracy on the web. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) have been stirring controversy since being introduced last October. Those in favor of the measures argue that they are intended to strengthen protections against copyright infringement and intellectual property theft, however, critics have expressed fears that if enacted, such legislation would stifle expression on the World Wide Web.
On Wednesday, several prominent and well-know websites, including Reddit which completely shut down, Wikipedia, which blocked its content for 24 hours and Google which displayed a black-box blocking out its signature logo – all protested the proposed anti-piracy legislation. Both Google and Wikipedia directed visitors in the U.S. to contact their legislators and sign petitions against the proposed legislation. Each say their actions generated feedback from millions.
Meanwhile, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, investigators for the FBI maintain that there’s no connection between Thursday’s arrests, their two-year investigation of Megaupload.com and the anti-SOPA activities this week in protest of a pending vote on SOPA.
However, some say that the timing of the two events seems uncanny. One report posted by International Business Times’ Amrutha Gayathri on the debacle notes,
The timing of the arrest has been perceived by many as a knee-jerk reaction from the federal authorities to the mass protests on Jan. 18,” and further concluding, “The audacity of the arrests immediately following the mass blackouts and mass signature campaigns against the draconian Internet legislations has been perceived by many as a signal of the entertainment industry influence over the U.S. government.”
The indictment against Megaupload charges “for more than five years the conspiracy has operated websites that unlawfully reproduce and distribute infringing copies of copyrighted works, including movies – often before their theatrical release – music, television programs, electronic books, and business and entertainment software on a massive scale.”
Some note that the magnitude of the FBI’s investigation and the fact that the indictment was handed down by a grand jury in Virginia on Jan. 5, ( which was prior to announcements of the protests against SOPA), make it unlikely that there’s a connection between the events.
Still, some are skeptical, and as Gayathri explains, “A portion of the Internet community also speculates that the authorities are flexing their muscles showing the SOPA protestors what they are capable of even without SOPA, by targeting a hugely popular site, in a case involving international cooperation between the U.S., Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Canada and the Philippines. In addition to the arrests, 20 search warrants were executed today in multiple countries.”
The hackers responsible for taking down the FBI’s website wrote on Twitter Thursday, “Megaupload was taken down w/out SOPA being law. Now imagine what will happen if it passes. The Internet as we know it will end. FIGHT BACK.”
The group also claimed responsibility for attacks affecting sites for the DOJ, RIAA, Universal Music, the U.S. Copyright Office, Broadcast Music Inc. and the Motion Picture Association of America.
As one blogger asks “why exactly does the government feel the need to push for SOPA/PIPA when they were able to extend their copyright assault globally so easily,” and further says, “The timing of the effort is also bizarre given the outrage surrounding SOPA/PIPA, layered on existing outrage over a lack of financial sector accountability for the U.S. economic collapse. While those crimes were ignored, this indictment is chock full of language that applies nefarious implications on routine business practices (routine money spent on advertising and other business expenses is repeatedly deemed part of the “Mega Conspiracy”), and the RIAA/MPAA-style language of the indictment certainly doesn’t quell the notion that the entertainment enjoys using the full power of the United States government as their personal plaything.”
Racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two counts of criminal copyright infringement are all charges being levied against Megaupload, and if convicted, each individual arrested is facing up to 55 years in prison, according to the Justice Department.
The website americancensorship.org, a non-profit describing itself as “dedicated to protecting online freedom” has a to-do list for activists outlined on its website currently, as well as a variety of information about the proposed legislation.
The site’s home page also has quotations from some high-profile players in the debate. New York Times’ Rebecca MacKinnion is quoted as saying,
The potential for abuse of power through digital networks – upon which we as citizens now depend for nearly everything, including our politics – is one of the most insidious threats to democracy in the Internet age … This is no time for politicians and industry lobbyists in Washington to be devising new Internet censorship mechanisms, adding new opportunities for abuse of corporate and government power over online speech,”
and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on record as relaying,
When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled and people constrained in their choices, the Internet is diminished for all of us.. There isn’t an economic Internet and a social Internet and a political Internet. There’s just the Internet.”
Requesting a cease fire?
Today House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the legislation’s lead sponsor, announced plans to postpone consideration of the legislation, saying he’d seek “wider agreement on a solution.”
In a report in the Los Angeles Times Smith says, “I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy,” Smith said. “It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”
Feature photo | Standing in court from left to right, Bram van der Kolk, Finn Batato, Mathias Ortman and Kim Dotcom (also known as Kim Schmitz) appeared in North Shore District Court in Auckland , New Zealand, Jan. 20 2012. The four appeared in court in relation to arrests made to Megaupload.com which is linked to a US investigation into international copyright infringement and money laundering. Greg Bowker | New Zealand Herald via AP