X-Files, Tagline from Season 1, Episode 24, "The Erlenmeyer Flask" (1994). Image Source: The X-Files Taglines.
The political and governmental capacity of the Internet is evolving so rapidly that it outpaces all the analysts currently acknowledged as experts in the fields of international relations, political economy and foreign policy. Every world trade meeting, high end newspaper editorial, and talking head session coming out of the MSM outlets looks moribund and woefully out of touch. Acknowledged authorities on these matters go on about the gold bubble and the price of oil, unemployment and the Arab Spring. A China slowdown and tax policy. Nuclear Japan and nuclear Iran. Analyses are politically skewed, and the audience is expected to be passive. Viewers and readers are meant to believe what they are politically inclined to be told, whether or not those politics still reflect reality.
No one in the halls of power observes that the pitched (and remarkably boring) right-left battle between global elites simply does not address current conditions. To start, take the growing gap between rich and poor, the growing sections of a crumbling, alienated middle class in developed countries, and the disenfranchised everywhere else. The broad consensus attained through prosperity (or its promise) has been pulverized. The old Roman trick of bread and circuses no longer keeps the mob pacified. The Internet itself became part of a series of marketed distractions, petty consumerist addictions, and cheap sham equalities. A gadget in every hand. But after the recession hit, neither right nor left formulas could hasten recovery, and the popularity of hacktivism increased dramatically. The online distraction became an obsession, and then almost overnight, the foundation of a new world.
Image Source: Ars Technica.
Meanwhile, the factor that authorities and commentators should try to understand, Cyberpolitics, is acknowledged by pundits via a superficial acquaintance with Julian Assange's shenanigans; or it is skimmed over out of ignorance; or it is derisively poo-pooed as the preserve of basement-dwellers and politically naive computer freaks, whose facility with the mysteries of technology is at worst unnerving. Since the province of computer hacktivism is virtual, it is deemed far removed from the gritty, physical day-to-day modern governmental realities of political parties, fund-raising, friendly think tanks and partial NGOs, lobby groups, private interests, intelligence reports, and back room deals. Instead of looking at and encouraging the positive governmental potential of the Internet, Cyberpolitics has been treated negatively as a security issue.
Being a hacker target had, until recently, been deemed by firms simply to be a security problem for their in-house IT staff or for an out-of-house IT security contractor (that is, until the security contractors got hacked - it was embarrassing). In that climate, hackers become king.
One glance at Twitter's #antisec feed, and anyone schooled in the history of politics, and more importantly, the structure of government, would start to wonder whether movements on the Internet could become the Millennial power groups. Beyond their pet causes, hacktivists might reshape democracy and anti-democracy, as well as the very form of the state.
On the one hand, I see why someone would tweet: "The time to act is now. If youre waiting for November, then you still buy into the lies. There r no political parties." It is not just disenchantment and a bad economy. It is not just - as some critics have said - bad character of entitled youth. The Internet is changing the fabric of statehood itself.
On the other hand, the blind support hacktivists receive is troubling. They adore Orwellian language: LulzSec and Anonymous have joined forces for Operation Antisec. The forces marshaled under this banner are following a pretty straightforward radical political agenda that appeals to any angry youth culture. On Friday, Anonymous targeted a private prison Website in Florida. Another attack took down an Ohio-based FBI affiliate, with its compromised site playing the 1995 Dangerous Minds Soundtrack hit, the Coolio redux of "Pastime Paradise" (incidentally, the song is based on J. S. Bach's Prelude No. 2 in C minor (BWV 847): listen here and here, and compare here and here - the provenance of modern media is amazing). WikiLeaks and Anonymous are promising more big announcements this week: "There's some massive win heading our (and your) way. We we we so excited! In the meantime we continue to root & leak & rm."
Hackers have been steadily ramping up their rhetoric and actions from pranks to serious threats. It is already Monday 27 February in the UK, and while America watches the Oscars, WikiLeaks have begun publishing the Global Intelligence Files and over 5 million confidential e-mails of the Texas-based security company, Stratfor. It looks like Stratfor's site has been hacked at the same time as well, since they currently have a 14 February 2012 page up advertising: "Jihadist Opportunities in Syria."
Tweets in the past few hours give the tone: "We aren't born under the law. Laws don't apply upon us.. we are legions."
And: "Yikes RT
And: "Greece Ministry of "Justice" Website http://ministryofjustice.gr has been Hacked and Defaced by
And: "Something dark is churning in my heart. I like it.
And: "Federal Trade Commission Server Breached By Anonymous
As the actions escalate and the evolution takes hold, you have to wonder where this will all go. I sure miss the 80s, when we looked at tech with wide-eyed wonder and boundless optimism. The mood of the 1990s, the decade when popular access to the Internet was born, was awash in paranoia. This was the Dawn of the Paper Shredder, when the X-Files ruled the television. With its smoke and mirrors, virtual Potemkin Villages, invisible hierarchies, unknown authorities and special-access-class of users, I'm not sure the Internet was ever free, or ever lent itself to freedom. The Internet is very good at setting up online institutions that look like they are dealing with freedom when they are in fact dealing with its opposite.
Firstly, there is the innate nature of Virtual Reality itself, which we do not yet fully understand. Those who believe the free transfer of data will seamlessly provide the underpinnings of new spiritual and commercial paradigms may be naive. In 2011, popular tech and gadgets sparked revolutions and initiated processes which toppled tyrannies. But a gadget in every hand does not a democracy make; nor is a tech-ridden society necessarily free, solvent, stable or secure.
The polity spawned by tech will reshape itself to reflect the tech. I have seen arguments that tech is a neutral tool and mirrors only the predisposition of its users. But I think that places too much faith in the notion that we are in control of how the Internet is evolving. It also wrongly assumes tech is neutral. For the people who now have difficulty functioning when unplugged for any length of time, who or what is in control? The people? Or their tool-driven reality? It's that reality, with its undertows toward subterfuge, slavery and authoritarianism, which is most worrying.
Thus, the popular perception that there is a battle to control the Internet between Friendly Internet Entities, Hackers and Netizens on one side, and Big Business and Big Government on the other, misses the fact that the very nature of the Internet lends itself to control and hierarchies built around privileged information.
Secondly, the Internet could indeed come to embody the greatest form of human organization ever conceived, tailored to the microcosmic needs of the local and vulnerable, while still endlessly evolving to encompass the macro-political. The problem is that everywhere one looks, the Internet is filled with false Cyber-Messiahs, many of whom are indistinguishable from genuine innovators.
If there is one truth that has prevailed online over the past fifteen years, it is that many groups, whether in positions of established authority or not, have recognized that Cyberspace is a vast, unconquered country. From that country, one could rule the world. Over-politicized initiatives, ultra-causes, endless marketing hype, and a parade of media mega-events all have as their general subtext an establishment bid for Internet dominance. But that bid for control of the Web equally informs the self-righteous political dogma of Cyber-libertines and hacktivists. Ars Technica's page on Tech Law and Tech Policy gives an endless feed on the struggle between countless interests to dominate our Virtual Reality.
Anonymous hack of Met/FBI conversation (3 February 2012). Video Source: Youtube.
Self-declared proponents of the free Internet gain enormous cachet by demonizing the government, corporations and banks in favour of limitless file-sharing in the Internet Valhalla. They throw their lots in with real world agitation over the failing economy. Behind that moral high ground they claim to occupy, we may wonder about their larger motives. Take Anonymous's 3 February hack of US and UK Cyber-security telephone chats:
Sooo, by this reasoning, the US government is trying to take over the whole world, but Anonymous will be there to stop them? Okay. By contrast, in 2011, there was talk of Anonymous destroying Cyber-giant Facebook. That objective would seem more related to Anonymous's immediate concerns: Facebook was just accused of reading its users' private text messages. This promise of Web camps warring over the integrity of Cyberspace quickly disappeared into thin air. Maybe Facebook is already too big and too integrated into the mainstream power complex. Or maybe Anonymous is not necessarily the rebel organization it makes itself out to be. (I'm going to go change my passwords now.)A hack of historical significance in the developing global cyber war against corporatism WE publish because it's ALREADY public domain & because names that could endanger law-enforcement personnel *and* names that could compromise any current investigation have been bleeped out. ANTISEC hacks UK/FBI CONFERENCE CALL on ANTISEC, ANONYMOUS & CSLSEC: THIS VIDEO CONFIRMS THE WORST SUSPICIONS OF ALL EUROPEANS WORLDWIDE! A TAKEOVER OF WORLDWIDE LEGAL SYSTEMS BY *FEDERAL* USA LAW ENFORCEMENT: 'local police are not so interested', but the parties to this call are only too willing to hand over ANYONE the FBI asks for (and that INCLUDES ANYONE IN EUROPE under the European Arrest Warrant); to work for 50 cents a hour in the USA GULAG COMPLEX; larger than any ever built (and bigger than that of STALIN - that's a BIG FUCKING HINT FOLKS), run for profit, and owned by BANKSTERS! For newbies: Fiscal History 101 ;)
When they first became widely known, Anonymous spouted classic flaming hacker bluster. Lately, their Twitter affiliates have talked of bringing down governments and running societies. The massed approval that greets them on Twitter and Youtube suggests that their supporters have not paused for one instant to ask: who are you people? What is your agenda? Where did you come from? Of course, that's the point. No one knows. That is not automatically a good thing. And those who try to track down the real people behind Anonymous come to regret it.
Why did WikiLeaks' release of sensitive information inspire a wave of trust on the part of Cyber-citizens, many of whom are equally willing to believe the most outlandish conspiracy theories? Why should we trust Pirate Bay more than Facebook? Why should anyone trust their friendly neighbourhood hacker group more than the CIA?
Since when did computer hackers presume to have the moral right to attack and overturn entire societal infrastructures, much less have a clue on how to run them in better ways? By what authority are they claiming to speak for the democratic majority? They insist that they constitute a new way of operating, beyond toxic conventional politicking, which has corrupted representative democracy, and amen to that. But do they really offer the idealized, democratic Cyber-alternative? Or do they just say they do?
On the surface, a group like Anonymous easily embodies a hot-button Internet democracy, thereby fulfilling the founding ideals of the Internet. Cyber-freedom fighters' iconoclasm is taken as proof of those ideals. It is possible that these hacktivists boil down to being just what they say they are: diverse, decentralized, tech-savvy individuals who are fed up and want to change things for the better. If that is the case, why are they plainly seeking greater amounts of power and control for themselves? Why are their plans and threats more decisive and uniform with every passing day?
A truly innovative collaborative Cyber-force would not be manufacturing a programmatic and utterly conventional power vacuum, tailor-made for that group to slide into the driver's seat. In reality, we don't know who the members of Anonymous are, or how they mean to harness popular support within their growing online momentum. Perhaps they don't even know what they will do with this power.
Maybe we should worry more about the unknown groups that already have our personal information, which was channeled to them via mainstream companies like Facebook. Can one drill down to find out how one's personal market and media data get crunched, packaged and sold off to the highest bidder? Would you trust your confessional App more than the Vatican? How about online dating services, whose patrons pay to hand over their most sensitive, intimate and private information to corporate interests? Why do users trust their Internet providers with all their private information and information on the sites they visit - more than they trust their elected officials? In truth, how much innovation is available to a medium whose core anonymity and manipulative data hierarchies lead us to trust anyone - or no one?