I was actually writing a different blog about state-sponsored hacktivism when Julian Assange was arrested by the British Police and carried out of the Ecuadorean Embassy on Thursday the 11th of April. I decided I could not miss the opportunity to discuss the outcomes of his arrest and the reactions that would have erupted in the hacktivist scene.
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, caught the attention of the international community when back in 2010 he decided to publish a vast array of compromising leaked documents, exposing several barely legal or completely illegal activities perpetrated by different states around the world. These publications proved to be particularly embarrassing for the United States of America, which felt their security jeopardised and reacted by charging Assange with computer intrusion under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Assange’s arrest is just the last step of several attempts of the US government to bring the Australian activist to justice.
As predicted, this episode triggered in short time a fierce reaction of many hacktivist groups. The Guy Fawkes mask (traditional symbol of the collective of hacktivists Anonymous) took only few hours to appear on the Internet with the classical message against ‘the establishment’, the call for a revolution and a couple of well-planned and effective DDoS actions against Ecuadorean governmental websites. Now that we started with Dumas, we can continue with Pink Floyd: Is there anybody out there willing to pick up the fight?
Anonymous and WikiLeaks – Love and hate
Anonymous and the whistleblowing non-profit organisation WikiLeaks do not generally need any presentations. But, it is good to underline that their story has not always been a pleasant one. While Anonymous has likely been the strongest ally of WikiLeaks for many years, it certainly did not spare criticism towards Assange himself, defining the whistle-blowers website as the “Julian Assange Show”. In all honesty, this might not come as a surprise, but it also deserves to be carefully explained in order to avoid screaming at Anonymous’ incoherence and lack of consistency.
The collective Anonymous – It is not the person, but the idea
You cannot stop an idea. And Anonymous is an idea. Or better, it is made of several ideas that spread from saving the animals, to stopping the new EU directive on intellectual property, to encouraging the (apparently successful) uprising in Sudan and finally to freeing Assange. Because Anonymous consists of different people promoting diverse values, the fact that one day they criticise Assange and the other day they support him is definitely not surprising.
But, let’s not make mistakes. Though Assange’s release is important, it is not the core of the issue. The real target of Anonymous’ operation is what they define, also in the last online message, as the establishment: the British Police, the Ecuadorian government and ultimately the American government are all perceived as powerful actors that indiscriminately target a citizen who has represented a threat to them in these last seven years. The hacktivists’ focus is not on Assange per se, but on the “arbitrary” use of power against him, without any “convincing charge”. The DDoS actions and the videos published on dedicated YouTube channels, are directed to all of us. Interesting enough, the message does not only address the traditional Internet user, but invites every citizen of the world to get on the street and claim his or her position and right to protest.
Will Anonymous succeed?
It is difficult to tell if there will be relevant manifestations on the streets, as Assange also has his dark shades that do not certainly help his cause, at least not among common people. But looking at the tweets and at the comments below the YouTube videos, there is certainly a tension rising. What is also relevant is the fact that the #OpAssange and #OpEcuador have gained the support not only of individuals clearly belonging to Anonymous, but also of other hacktivists’ groups traditionally not aligned with the collective. This last point allows us to stress once again the core of the whole issue. Particularly the hacktivists who are supporting these operations are not involved because of Assange per se, but because of the idea that Assange represents. The freedom of information, the search for truth, the desire to break secrets that have the form of codes are all elements which belong to the original hackers’ culture. This is what will push hacktivists to act and hack for the promotion of their ideals. This is something we can expect in the upcoming days. Will the Internet be unleashed? Probably not. But as long as a light will be shed on these issues, hacktivists and Anonymous will be successful…so long as we speak about them.