Hacktivists’ computer knowledge endows them with considerable power. This knowledge applied to defending common values gives them a new potentiality of political action: voices are raised in unity against censorship and oppression. Internet, a potential place of repression, has become a battlefield for the defenders of freedom.
This article is the second in a trilogy addressing the notion of hacktivism:
2- From Hacking to Freedom Fighting
3- Hacktivism: A Path to Anarchism?
This article is a translation of "Hacktivisme : les voies du pouvoir ne sont plus impénétrables", translated from French by Timothée Froelich.
Members of Anonymous wearing Guy Fawkes masks at the Scientology area in Los Angeles
Hackers’ distrust of power probably originates in the culture that has fired up their imagination. The cyberpunk movement described a near reality where technology and its social implications reduced the future to a dystopia. In this artistic genre, which influenced the hacker culture, there was the intuition that technological knowledge held a fundamental place in the control of political power. The one who knows becomes a threat to the established authorities, who attempt to control or even crush the hacker’s free thought. These omens of governmental behavior oscillating between incapacity to react and brutal repression, take shape in the Hacktivismo Declaration. This group is an offshoot of the organization Cult of the Dead Cow, which bases its hacktivism on the observation of a governmental attitude that is hostile toward freedom on the web. The group states that it defends rights mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and applied to the internet, like the right to information and to freedom of opinion and expression. This will to act forces states to face their own commitments and their relative incapacity to respect them.
The values defended by hacktivist movements are actually more or less the same from one group to another. The defense of personal freedom characterizes these individuals’ motivation. As they realize the potential of their knowledge, they refuse to remain idle before the inertia of the State. The Germans from the Chaos Computer Club promote freedom of information, transparency in governments, and communication as a human right. Telecomix distinguished itself by protecting freedom of expression throughout the Arab Spring. In particular, it made it possible to preserve the digital imprint of these revolutions.
A virtual battlefield for the defense of freedoms
Internet can no longer be considered, in an oversimplified way, as just another place, as an emerging heterotopia, isolated from the rest of the world. It should be perceived as a continuation of reality, where all extend their identity and have the right to the same protection of their freedom. The hacktivists’ computer knowledge enables them to control the network of a whole country (as with the hijacking of the entire Syrian network by Telecomix in September 2011, in order to show the Syrians how to bypass censorship). This knowledge applied to defending common values gives them a new potentiality of political action. Voices are raised in unity against censorship and oppression, ready to defy any kind of tyranny and fight for the freedom of each and every person.
Internet, a potential place of repression, becomes a battlefield for the defenders of freedom. This possible threat gives power to the crypto-anarchist movement. Beyond rejecting the governmental entity, it calls for the use of cryptography to make individuals’ knowledge inaccessible and stop feeding the power of a minority. Crypto-anarchism calls for even stronger anonymity on the web, in order to protect private life. Beyond the questionable promotion of an almost complete anonymity on the internet network − if the latter is considered as a continuation of reality − the tools developed and used by the movement (like GNU privacy guard, which ensures the confidentiality of communications) were particularly relevant in the conflicts of the Arab Spring. The use of cryptography allows some revolutionaries to escape the heavy-handed repression of their governments and to share with the world the abuses suffered. The relevance of these coded communications made it possible to mobilize international opinion and organize resistance, like in Egypt or Syria, where the governments, no longer aware of their citizens’ activities, could not accurately target their actions anymore and stop them from happening.
The promotion of cryptography and anonymity has a very particular application in the Anonymous movement*. The political action of Anonymous takes a different form, as it is no longer possible to discern with accuracy a group’s way of thinking or outer limit. Anonymous is everyone, and everyone is Anonymous. The authorities, flustered by this structure – or lack thereof − uselessly attempt to annihilate a so-called destabilizing and threatening group. Bewildered governments flail about in vain, as the contemptuous lulz of Anonymous rain down upon them. Anonymous is no hacktivist group. Anonymous is a hacktivist consciousness. Across ideologies and frontiers, Anonymous echoes the nebulous fury of individuals who refuse to be told what to do by a self-interested elite, to acknowledge the impunity of the state or to suffer infringements of their liberty, and who claim: “We know, therefore we can. We can, therefore we know. Fear us!” Foucault’s hypothesis of the panopticon (see our previous article on hacktivism) seems to have been reversed.
* For an historical and anthropological analysis of Anonymous, see the works of Gabriella Coleman:
About the author:
After attending law school, Rodhlann Jornod is now focusing on studying practical philosophy. He is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Criminology in Paris, and is currently writing his dissertation, addressing the structures of morality related to the phenomenon of criminal justice. His interest for new technologies also led him to study the impact of sciences on notions of practical philosophy, such as moral and politics.
To find out more:
About Michel Foucault: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/foucault/
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