A young man of 22 cites attempts by European Union to restrict the Internet among his reasons for taking a political stand and to attack the websites of giant corporations. What is the real message here to policy-makers?
Operation Payback is a targetted action by a group of several thousand people against the websites of corporations which have in one way or another, removed facilities from Wikileaks, the website which has released thousands of US diplomatic cables and other material that the American government would like to keep secret.
When one of the group - which goes by the name 'Anonymous' - was interviewed by the BBC this week, he cited European Union policy as one of the reasons for this action.
The young man interviewed called himself by the pseudonym "Coldblood". He was aged 22, a software engineer, and a-political. But he was passionate about keeping the Internet open and free. He was interviewed on
BBC Radio Four's Today programme, which for many years has been a leading political programme in Britain, keenly followed by UK politicians and policy-makers.
Coldblood was on the Today programme to discuss Operation Payback, and the sub-action known as Operation Avenge Assange, which is the banner under which the actions against the finance sites has been organised.
Coldblood was asked by the presenter, Evan Davis, " Do you see this as some kind of war? If so, who is it a war between?"
His answer was:
"I see it as becoming a war, but not a conventional war, this is a war of data. We are trying to keep the Internet open and free for everyone. the way it should be and always has been. In recent months - years - we have seen governments, the European Union, slowly trying to creep in and limit the freedon we have on the Internet"
The existence of Operation Payback, and the group behind it - which calls itself Anonymous, was new to me as well as to the British media which has excelled itself in finding out about it. The group has temporarily taken offline websites run by Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal, which closed Wikileaks accounts in an attempt starve it of funds. It also attacked the company which switched off Wikileaks' webaddress, in an attempt to remove it from the Internet. And a website belonging to the Swedish prosecutor.
Wikileaks has not been proven guilty of any crime in a court of law, and yet these corporations have seen fit to hand down their own judgement and punish the owner, Julian Assange, simply because information published by Wikileaks is uncomfortable to the US government.
As regular iptegrity readers will know, the EU is continually being pressured by various stakeholders to bring in legal provisions for blocking the Internet. The Telecoms Package faciliates ISPs imposing restrictions. These restictions were not needed for Mastercard, etc to take the action to block payments, but they do fit in with the general concerns about censorship of the Internet.
It seems to be an international group which is mostly male and mostly young, and mostly works with computers. This group is also likely to be highly educated, and intellectual and I sense that policy-makers ignore it at their peril. Indeed, this surprise action by the group is indicative of why policy-makers should tread carefully when making provisons which permit the blocking of the Internet, for whatever purpose.
Operation Payback began as a retaliation against the copyright industries and their efforts to get websites blocked, and user access blocked to support their business. Its original targets were the music industry ( including the British Phonographic Industry (BPI)) and the Holloywood studios.
The group switched its attention to corporations which have co-operated with the US government in its attempts to silence Wikileaks. On one of their websites, was this statement:
"While we don't have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same: we want transparency (in our case in copyright) and we counter censorship. The attempts to silence WikiLeaks are long strides closer to a world where we can not say what we think and not express how we feel. We can not let this happen, that is why we will find out who is attacking WikiLeaks and with that find out who tries to control our world..."
I don't condone DDoS attacks, and I think there are other ways that this group could get their message across. On the other hand - and I have to phrase this delicately - we know that policy-makers do not listen. Even when thousands of people contact them to oppose legislation, they go behind closed doors, they twist the words, they lie. It may be that this group of young men have decided to take action into their own hands, because they see these deceitful strategies employed by their supposed ‘elders and betters'.
It is also the case that people do not like the notion of censorship - which is entailed in the way that governments have pressured corporations to take action against Wikileaks. I feel that it is very likely that many people, who would never break the law, could secretly applaud their action.
Policy-makers who support Internet restrictions will increasingly be seen as pro-censorship, and this is a dangerous path to tread.
Post-script: The group known as 'Anonymous' has announced a change of strategy, where it will spread the leaked cables and other documents as far as possible, on the basis that what the US government does not want, is for people to read them.
More background on the group behind Operation Payback, from The Guardian
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) Did EU Internet restrictions prompt Operation Payback? , http://www.iptegrity.com 11 December 2010.