Is Operation Payback “the first great cyber war” or just a “major shitstorm?” Are the mounting cyberattacks in support of Wikileaks something like the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s? Remember Mario Savio? Remember his prescient speech on the UC Berkeley campus in 1964?
There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the levers, upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.
Here’s the speech in context and the complete text of the speech.
Savio framed the moral issue and portended the outcome of protests that came later against the Vietnam War, when New Left radicals led campus revolts, war protestors organized peace marches, Yippies “stormed” the Pentagon, urban guerrillas went underground, and armed “liberation movements” sprang up. That was the temper of the times, if not for everybody certainly for a large portion of America’s youth.
But as happy as I am to welcome today’s guerrilla geeks, I believe there’s a huge difference between then and now. I don’t see a mass movement taking shape. Maybe I’m just frozen in time. Maybe I don’t know what’s really happening. Maybe, given the importance of cyberspace, the cyberattacks will be more than sporadic. Maybe the guerrilla geeks are fulfilling Savio’s words. Maybe they are putting their bodies upon the gears and screwing up the apparatus, even if it’s just their virtual bodies. For the moment it looks like Julian Assange‘s actual body will stand in for them and us, and — more permanently — so will Bradley Manning‘s.
Postscript: Greenwald on the crux of the WikiLeaks debate.
Dec. 11 — More essential reading from Greenwald: The media’s authoritarianism and WikiLeaks, substantiating links included.
As to whether a mass protest movement for free speech is taking shape or not … Based on information supplied by Minerva, an Internet security company, and other experts, the NYT reports that within days of Julian Assange’s arrest “tens of thousands” of Internet users — going well beyond guerilla geeks — downloaded software to attack Web sites of companies that caved to government threats against Wikileaks.
Meanwhile, according the AP, via Forbes, the guerrilla geeks known as Anonymous circulated a press release saying
the group — which it refers to as an “Internet gathering” — was acting out of a desire “to raise awareness about WikiLeaks and the underhanded methods employed by the above companies to impair WikiLeaks’ ability to function.”
Which sounds to me exactly like the cyber equivalent of a Free Speech Movement sit-in.
Dec. 16 — The Economist uses the sit-in analogy in an editorial today, but calls guerilla geeks “cowardly hooligans, not heroes,” because their distributed denial-of-service attacks are anonymous.
The closest equivalent to a DDOS attack in the offline world would be a mass sit-in or a mob milling around a building, making entry and exit impossible. …Some argue that DDOS attacks are, similarly, a legitimate expression of dissent.
But in a free society the moral footing for peaceful lawbreaking must be an individual’s readiness to take the consequences, argue in court and fight for a change in the law. Demonstrators therefore deserve protection only if they are identifiable. …The furtive, nameless nature of DDOS attacks disqualifies them from protection; their anonymous perpetrators look like cowardly hooligans, not heroes.
I disagree of course with that characterization, but have to hand it to The Economist for logical consistency:
This applies to those attacking WikiLeaks too — a point American politicians calling for reprisals against Julian Assange’s outfit should note.
Trouble is, who will hold American politicians accountable if they do not deign to take note? The U.S. Justice Department, which is seeking to decapitate Wikileaks? Please.