Sunday, January 22, 2012

Anonymous At War


Following Thursday's arrest by the FBI and New Zealand police, in New Zealand, of the owner and staff of the file sharing web site Megaupload.com, Anonymous, that loosely knit band of social justice hacktivists that predates but is closely allied with the Occupy Movement, took down the web sites of the FBI, the US Department of Justice, the US Copyright Service, the Motion Picture Association of America, Universal Music and the Recording Industry Association of America. You may have missed it if you get all your news from corporate owned media, but there is a good rundown of why and how they did it in Mother Jones magazine by Josh Harkinson, who actually interviewed some Anonymous members at one of the secure chat rooms they use to communicate with each other, and talked to a scholar who closely follows the group.

The arrests in New Zealand, coming as they did one day after the mass internet-based protests against the efforts by congress to pass the internet censorship bills SOPA and PIPA, were taken by Anonymous as a declaration of war, and they retaliated immediately by shutting down the government and industry web sites that have the most to do with those internet censorship efforts.

The web site Megaupload.com, while it did contain some copyrighted material, which the site owners removed when they found it, was overwhelmingly used by people who want to legitimately share large files that are too large to share via email and other usual means. But the FBI shut down the entire site and deleted everything on it, causing many people to lose material they had posted there that was important to them. It's a prime example of government overreach and of why government power must be curtailed.

It's surely not right or fair to deny artists their means to make a living by stealing their work, but two things must be said. One, as the FBI raids show, laws already exist to protect copyright.

Those laws may need to be updated to adopt them to current conditions, but the other, and most important thing to keep in mind, is that SOPA, PIPA, and the FBI's actions on Thursday, are not about copyright protection.

They must be seen in the larger picture of the many things government has been doing to curtail free speech, intimidate citizens and quash dissent: the Patriot Act, the assassination of US citizens abroad, the ability bestowed recently by the NDAA to "disappear" US citizens, the ongoing mass wiretapping of the phone and internet communication of regular citizens, extra-judicial rendition, the hauling of law abiding environmental and pro Palestinian activists before grand juries to, essentially, shut them up, not merely to get them to rat out others but to destroy the ability to lawfully dissent in America, as is happening right now in Chicago, and of course torture, which, make no mistake, is not done to get information from so called terrorists. Torture by our government, or their agents, is for your and my benefit, so that we know exactly what our government is capable of and what it is very willing to do to those who displease it.

The Megaupload arrests, and other efforts to control the internet like the "internet kill switch" Sen. Joe Lieberman dreams about, the efforts by the telecommunications giants to privatize the internet, and SOPA and PIPA, must be seen in this light. Any authority given to the government, or its corporate masters, will necessarily be used, and ultimately abused.

SOPA and TIPA have been shelved, but Anonymous today released a video warning about their replacement, the Online Protection of Digital Trade bill, or OPEN, a kinder gentler sounding bill, but which also broadens the government's authority to shut down web sites, an ability it already has and is already abusing, as in the case of Megaupload.com.

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The following video, also attributed to Anonymous, tells a little about the group. There is no "official" Anonymous web site, Facebook page or YouTube channel that I know of. I subscribe to several YouTube channels where their videos are reposted. I compare those to each other, and look for a couple things, like the page views. The more page views the more likely the video is legitimate. I also look at the graphics they use and whether or not the voice is encrypted. People who know enough to participate in Anonymous activities know how to disguise their voices so voice recognition software can't nail them. Finally I search the internet to see if any of the news web sites that regularly report about Anonymous are reporting a particular newly posted video.

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We have a tendency to discount some things as alarmist. Some things are, but we also tend to not even notice some important advances in civil liberties, or the continuation of existing ones, because only a few vigilant people like the ACLU, the NAACP, The National Lawyers Guild or the Electronic Freedom Foundation were involved.

We also tend to forget that it has happened here before, from the Alien and Sedition Acts through McCarthyism. We take a glance at places it has happened, like Germany, where one of the most progressive governments in the history of Western Civilization, the Wiemar Republic, became Hitler's Nazi Germany overnight, and think that it can't happen here.

If you think not, you must be able to explain the current round of attacks on civil liberties and answer the question, 'Why not?' Please, at least, keep yourself informed.


I've also written about these issues:

Anonymous addresses SOPA and PIPA

SOPA and PIPA

 Barak Obama's assaults on civil liberties

Government suppression of citizen journalism

Creative Commons, an alternative to copyright




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