However, asking that the government follow proper governance is not the same as endorsing the actions of all Wikileaks supporters. And in this entry, I look at how the pro-wikileaks side is on the wrong side of the law.
Breaking the law: Wikileaks supporters
Much has been made in the past week of the response by Anonymous, a hacktivist collective that has been using its own tools to shut down web sites of companies that were opposed to Wikileaks.
Using a process called Distributed Denial of Services (or DDOS, for short), these groups would basically send a lot of traffic to a web server, effectively overloading it until the server was unable to server regular customer. Many have compared it to massive sit-ins, where the goal is to disrupt business operations by making it impossible for customers to perform business with the target.
I personally have quite a few issues with that strategy: for starters, I do not believe that lawlessness on the part of wikileaks opponents is appropriate justification for lawlessness on the part of its supporters. My view is that to take those types of moves is to take a road that essentially lead to anarchy (as an aside, many have compared anonymous to V, the anarchist in “V for Vendetta”).
We are a society largely based on laws. A few centuries ago, brave men and women defied an empire to establish the United States as a country based on principles of free expression and a free press. Those very rights were embedded in the US constitution, giving its citizenry great power.
But, as any Spiderman follower knows, with great power comes great responsibility. So while we do have a right to free expression and a free press, we, as citizen do not have a right to abuse. And the freedom of expression does not constitute a free pass on lawlessness under the guise of free expression.
Some have claimed that the actions of anonymous are a form of civil disobedience. My question here is simple: if the people behind anonymous truly believe that their actions constitute acts of civil disobedience, why are they performing them anonymously?
To truly perform civil disobedience, one must be willing to be arrested for your action. The veil of secrecy fails that test (and amusingly enough, seems to be the very thing that wikileaks is trying to tear down).
To claim that anonymous DDOS is similar to civil disobedience acts undertaken by protesters in the physical world also feels like it diminishes the actions of people who have performed civil disobedience in the past.
Let’s take two people:
- One person is sitting in an office/bedroom/dorm room/etc.. in front of a computer. The computer has several pieces of software installed on it to ensure the anonymity of its user. The user clicks on a button on a web page and waits while his/her computer sends tons of anonymous requests to a web server somewhere. When hungry or thirsty, the person walks away from the computer to go fix a sandwich or get a drink.
- The other person is out on the street in the middle of a protest confronting police or sitting in an office or business area with some fellow protester. The police team has battons and handcuffs and has been given the right to arrest the people doing the sit-in or protest. They strap the protesters hand behind his back with plastic handcuffs that cut into his/her skin. If the protester in this case is cooperative and the cop is too, the protester is then escorted to a police van, where he stays until the van has been filled. If he/she is not cooperative or the cop is in a bad move, he/she can be pushed, shoved, kicked or beaten up before being put into the van. When the van is filled, it is sent to either a prison or holding area, where the protester will be made to wait until his case is ready to be filled (hours or in some case days). If he/she is lucky enough to be in a country where due process is held, he/she may have a chance to post bail and then go to court at an assigned date.
Of those two people, which one is the more defiant of government control? Each equality believes in his/her cause but the level of comfort in their support is radically different. Drop the veil of anonymity and that comfort goes away, creating a situation where both models are more in line with each other.
A last question that I would throw into this mix is the one of motives. The veil of anonymity makes it easier to question the motives of the anonymous party. If it is fear of prosecution that forces you to hide, then you are not committing an act of disobedience: you are only breaking the law and being a coward. However, if you are hiding because your intents are different, then you are not only breaking the law but you are using this merely as a cover up for your true intent and that, in itself, should be enough to prosecute you with no justification for your side.