Last night, “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists,” a documentary covering the hacking collective Anonymous, premiered at SXSW.
I’ve spent a great deal of my time here at Death and Taxes attempting to examine the symbolic context by which Anonymous operates on political, social and economic levels. While I freely acknowledge that hacking of credit cards is a criminal act, I am quite convinced that DDoS attacks are a legitimate form of digital protest.
Additionally, I believe that in a country and a world in which power structures operate behind the veil of state secrecy and national security, that if information—whether it reveals bankrupt ethics, corruption, or otherwise bad behavior—finds its way into the hands of WikiLeaks or other publishers by way of hacking, then so be it. I believe that such a force can simultaneously fight alongside Arab Spring protesters, but also on American shores against banks and investors who crashed the economy in 2008; and that the latter is not crime on the order of Al Qaeda or Timothy McVeigh’s violent theatrics. Greedy, unethical bankers and corporate lobbyists are as illegitimate as dictators: the former often operate in the shadows, while the other exerts power openly. Both act without compunction.
If governments were more open with their people and didn’t act irresponsibly, or weren’t so easily and efficiently corrupted by business interests, then the hacking would not be necessary. If a man is bound against his will, he is liable to gnash his teeth at his captor—so it is with Anonymous.
I first encountered Anonymous while living in Los Angeles, where they initially donned the Guy Fawkes masks in opposition to Scientology. Naturally, I was supportive, not only because the visuals were humorous, but because it was an effective means of protesting an ethically corrupt cult.
In the summer of 2010, I encountered an individual who foresaw that Anonymous was about to evolve from merely causing The Church of Scientology and Sony grief into a mechanism for fighting political, social and economic injustice. This was several months before Operation Avenge Assange, when I couldn’t possibly have comprehended the full import of Anonymous’ next move.
A lot has been said about Anonymous by the federal government, the private sector, and journalists, and many of their points are valid within the context of current federal cybercrime laws. As with any power structure, though, its power is to be preserved not through its integrity, but in how well it can distort the atmosphere of dissident opinion and action, and feed the lies to the masses. It should come as no surprise then that the US government is attempting to define Anonymous as “terrorists.”
Hopefully, “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists,” directed by Brian Knappenberger, will go some way in checking the distortion from the federal politicians and their benefactors on Wall Street.
Appearing in the documentary is Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist who researches hacktivism. You can read my interview with her here.