Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hacker group Anonymous at centre of House of Commons probe

By Jordan Press

Federal politicians are forging ahead with an investigation into online threats against MPs, potentially targeting the hacktivist group Anonymous as a key witness in the hearings.
But tracking down a group of loosely affiliated hackers will not be simple - and may be impossible - according to one expert.
The group was singled out Tuesday in a ruling from the Speaker of the House of Commons.
In the ruling, the Speaker said the collective's threats to expose details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' personal life if he didn't withdraw the controversial online surveillance bill could be a breach of his rights as a parliamentarian.
``Those who enter political life fully expect to be held accountable for their actions - to their constituents, and to those who are concerned with the issues and initiatives they may advocate,'' Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer said in his ruling.
``However, when duly-elected (MPs) are personally threatened for their work in Parliament, whether introducing a bill, making a statement, or casting a vote, this House must take the matter very seriously.''
A House of Commons committee will now see what, if any, violation of Toews' privileges occurred and figure out a way to remedy the situation now and in the future.
``It will be up to the committee about how far, what steps we take, but it will be about future remedy,'' said Conservative MP Joe Preston, who chairs the House procedure committee that will conduct the probe.
The committee can call on the resources of Parliament - and could consider calling in the RCMP to help track people down - but it might be facing a monumental task in finding the person or people behind the Anonymous video account.
Members of the Anonymous collective cover their tracks and are difficult if not ``virtually impossible'' to track down, said David Skillicorn, a cyber-security expert from Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.
``It's incredibly hard to track somebody down if they're at all smart,'' he said.
Anonymous is a loosely-knit group of online hackers with no central organization, meaning that anyone can claim to be part of the collective and disputes about tactics arise regularly, Skillicorn said.
The group is responsible for attacks against several high profile websites, including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and, in Canada, the website for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
Members of the group have been tracked down around the world in recent days, with Interpol saying 25 suspected members of the collective were arrested in Latin America and Europe and U.S. authorities charging six more after they were outed by one of their own.
While politicians considered how they would go about interviewing Anonymous, the Opposition NDP warned that a separate probe into the now defunct VikiLeaks Twitter account could lead down a dangerous road that could put a chill on free speech online.
The Tories delayed making a decision Tuesday on whether to haul a Liberal staffer responsible for the VikiLeaks account before a parliamentary committee, wanting to question him about his use of parliamentary resources to tweet unflattering details of Toews' divorce proceedings.
``Are we going to start going after political staffers, members of Parliament, ministers for the use of their Twitter feeds? I think the government has done a major overreach here,'' said NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus.
``It's a really dangerous precedent they're trying to set.''
Liberal staffer Adam Carroll, who is married with kids, was working in the party's research bureau when he set up the Vikileaks30 account. Carroll created the Twitter account after Toews suggested in the Commons that opposing Bill C-30 was akin to siding with child pornographers.
The Liberals have said Carroll has apologized for his role in the VikiLeaks account and resigned from his job.
``Why can't you leave it at that?'' Liberal MP Scott Andrews told Conservatives on the ethics committee Tuesday. ``Why do you have to drag before the committee a staffer of the Liberal party who is sorry for his actions?''
Scheer ruled the VikiLeaks Twitter account was an ``unacceptable use of House IT resources,'' but considered the matter closed after interim Liberal leader Bob Rae made a public apology to Toews.

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