Our Opinion/ The real cost of Internet freedoms for all
By Cindy Gomez-Schempp
Recently HPR blacked out its cover to make people aware of the losses of Internet freedom looming from proposed censorship laws like SOPA and PIPA. We have since learned that these laws that would curtail our freedoms of information and free speech were patterned after an international treaty that many countries, including the U.S., have already singed on to. The real threat, an international treaty called ACTA, has become more well known because of an online activist group of famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) hackers. Anonymous and their subgroups, numbering in the hundreds of thousands worldwide, are learning more every day about ACTA, and the threat it - -and other laws- - pose to our free speech, our freedom from persecution, unwarranted searches and seizures, and our communication rights. To find out more visit: http://tiny.cc/ACTAinfo
This week at HPR we want to introduce you to Anonymous. The group Anonymous has recently taken online activism to new heights—disabling and hacking into many corporate and government sites in protest of laws like SOPA and PIPA and in retaliation for government and corporate censorship or curtailment of Internet freedoms. After Anonymous joined the fight to inform Americans about SOPA and PIPA—efforts which resulted in a massive outpouring of dissent that stopped congress in its tracks. Although allegations of copyright infringement were only logged against some of the owners and a fraction of the users, the U.S. government took down Megauploads and seized all the real and digital property of the owners and its millions of members. Anonymous has been retaliating ever since. Websites are being hacked and shut down everyday. Check out one of Anonymous latest exploits in taking down Monsanto’s website here: http://tiny.cc/TangoDWN
Who and what Anonymous is should matter to every single person. If you have never heard of or felt the effects of Anonymous, you will soon. The way in which laws and justice are applied online and in the real world, are being turned on their ear by Anonymous. The ramifications to your own personal freedoms are immense. Here’s your primer for what is already in full force and heading our way.
Before we tell you who Anonymous is, you should first know that Anonymous is at war and the fighting is spilling out of the digital world, and into our daily lives. They have deployed attacks against governments, corporations, politicians, counter-hacker groups and even Scientology using website crashes, Google bombs, and netbots. Internet wars have Google bombs, but they also have human casualties. Anonymous have been described as Hactivists, Internet heroes, and Terrorists. In 2011, the FBI issued a statement that engaging in DDOS (Directed Denial of Service) attacks is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. A DDOS attack, as simply put as possible, is the equivalent of everyone calling their Senator’s office and overloading their phone system or making it crash. In the Internet, this type of protest activism is now illegal. Around the world, children as young as 15 are being arrested for participating with Anonymous. One doesn’t need to be a high powered hacker, merely an online user, to participate.
Anyone can be Anonymous. Something as simple as leaving an Anonymous comment on a discussion board or giving someone remote access to a computer is Anonymous. Either one can now land you in jail. Anonymous has been described as a group of faceless computer nerds and hackers that carry out their own brand of vigilante justice by flexing their internet muscles. In the prankster category, Anonymous has taken responsibility for hacking into the Australian Prime Minister’s site and posting pornography during “Operation Titstorm,” an attack targeting the Australian government in opposition to Internet censorship laws proposed in 2010. But, on the more aggressive end of the spectrum, Anonymous has also participated in acts of such geopolitical importance as their instrumental support during the Arab Spring and subsequent toppling of numerous Middle Eastern governments. Fighting for freedom of information, Anons support Wikileaks and launched a massive attack against PayPal, Mastercard, and others following the close of the site. Under the same authority, the recent closure of the MegaUpload site resulted in an attack by Anons and closure of sites such as Motion Picture Association of America, U.S. Copyright Office, Universal Music, and many others. To see a full list, go to anonops.blogspot.com.
Anonymous’ are a collective; a leaderless organization operating with complete anonymity with a loose framework of agreed upon principles mostly having to do with internet and free speech rights. If you have ever seen the Guy Fawkes masks recently made popular by the movie V for Vendetta that are worn by some Occupy protesters these days, you know what Anonymous members wear when they are in public. Their origins grew out of a collective mission of internet camaraderie but today have morphed into activism promoting internet freedom and freedom of speech in general. Many see them as a bunch of innocuous pranksters, but with the recent attacks on U.S. government websites, corporations and their opposition to SOPA and PIPA, Anonymous is redefining their image. The news reports and bloggers call members of the Anonymous collective hacktivists, freedom fighters, and Internet bad boys. But the stakes are getting ever higher for this worldwide collective of Anonymous members and enthusiasts.
Since 2008, protestors and group members involved in Internet protest activities, as well as real world protests in association with Anon groups, have been attacked. A teenager in the UK was served a court summons after police confiscating his protest sign for using the word “cult” when referring to Scientologist. In Georgia, Anonymous members were arrested for such petty offenses as protesting and using megaphones. Even motorists that honked in response to “Honk if you think Scientology is a cult” signs were stopped and fined for “excessive use of horn.” Since 2011 some 40 search warrants have been issued on suspected members of Anonymous in the U.S.. Worldwide, suspected members have been arrested, fined, and charged with crimes.
Activities by Anonymous groups which have been heralded in the mainstream as stories of liberation and justice like the Arab Spring, are now resulting in the arrests of hundreds of suspected members whose acts of “terrorism” consist of key strokes. One member of Anonymous who felt his actions were a legal form of protest - - a feeling shared by most members of Anonymous regarding the organization’s hactivism activities - - said after being arrested that he was disillusioned with the idea of true anonymity online and warned others that anyone could be found and punished no matter how well they tried to hide themselves.
Who are those that want to end Anonymity? While the support for free flowing information and sunshine sites like Wikileaks is growing, governments and powerful interests are attempting to shut those sources of information down and they are persecuting those who make the information available, host the information, disseminate it, or defend its existence. So where does that leave Anonymous? By its nature, Anonymous is everywhere and everyone. They cannot be stopped by the arrest of dozens or hundreds or thousands or even millions. By all accounts Anonymous will continue to assert themselves in this fight for freedom and they will prevail where individuals with ideals have failed because - - in their own words - - they are Anonymous. They are legion. They do not forgive. They do not forget. So, expect them.
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