Five people have been arrested in England for their roles in the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks performed by the group calling itself Anonymous, claiming to be defending WikiLeaks and retaliating over the arrest of Julian Assange.
Initially this group formed to protest the activities of the Church of Scientology, both online and offline. They opposed the authoritarian protocols and abuses of Scientology. Seeing some success there, they have moved on to opposing what they view as tyrannical censorship in other realms. In 2009 the target of their ire was the Australian Federal Government over the proposal to introduce mandatory Internet censorship in Australia.
So where is the problem? The problem lies in the hypocrisy of their tactics. A DDoS is nothing if not a tool of censorship, it prevents the free flow of information. The simple fact is that Anonymous are pathetically trying to enforce their own authority on everyone else and are doing so by using the same tactics as those they profess to oppose.
When Anonymous launched a DDoS against Australian Government servers in September of 2009, they did not prevent the Parliament from continuing to work on legislation and policy, including continued work on the censorship proposal. They did, however, risk associating their childish tactics with the work of others seeking to oppose that censorship in a more reasonable and open manner. They also prevented some people seeking information about the censorship proposal in order to rebut it. I know this because I was one of the campaigners whose research efforts were hampered by those attacks. Fortunately enough anti-censorship campaigners, particularly from the EFA, condemned the attacks quickly enough that Senator Conroy was unable to use the attacks as ammunition against the campaign against censorship. Still, there was a risk that that could have happened.
Now Anonymous have turned their attention to acting in the name of WikiLeaks and launching similar attacks against any organisation which has opposed, harmed or withdrawn support (usually of a commercial nature) from WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. They have even gone so far as to say that “Julian Assange deifies everything we hold dear.” In their eyes Assange can never, under any circumstances do or be wrong and that this is their holy crusade. Now what could possibly go wrong there?
Unsurprisingly their targets in this crusade have chosen to fight back. When commercial juggernauts like Mastercard and Visa are attacked they will retaliate with the full force of the law and indeed they have. This is not something which Anonymous have seen before and as they have not really lived up to their name, their attacks being launched by an application run on the PCs of participants, rather than using remotely controlled botnets, they have been caught. Anonymous are not nearly as clever and as powerful as they have deluded themselves into believing and now their members are beginning to pay the price for this. They have been behaving like children throwing a tantrum in an adult world and now they are going to be spanked.
Meanwhile those of us who promote and work for civil liberties around the globe in a way which does not impinge upon the freedom of our opponents will continue as we have always done. We will not miss the distractions of brats like Anonymous. Except, of course, that they’re not just going to go away after a handful of arrests. No doubt the arrests will scare some of them off, but others will want to fight back more. They will view these arrests as tyrannical oppression, rather than seeing it as an obvious consequence of attempting their own censorship regime.
Now, I suppose, it is my turn to find out whether Anonymous are willing to accept criticism online or whether I will find my own server crippled by retaliation for writing this. Well, I believe we should all be free to express our opinions so I hope that will be reciprocated and that any criticism comes in the form of comments rather than a denial of service attack.