May 11, 2012

Hacker Narrative: Next Chapter in History of Civil Rights?

Peter Fein, self described Hacktivist, recently revealed he is a member of the group Anonymous,  a self-organized group that targets institutions that stand in the way of their vision of Internet freedom with Distributed Denial of Service(DDOS) attacks.  DDOS attacks are a way of effectively shutting down websites by  overwhelming them with traffic.

The hacktivist group Anonymous: the next chapter in the story of American civil liberties?

For much of the U.S. security and legal community, hacktivists are criminals and security threats.  In another popular image, hacktivists are anarchists dedicated to total liberty.

Peter Fein doesn’t see it either way, for him, his activities place him at the center of a uniquely American history of ever progressing civil rights.    In an interview with the BBC, he explains that denial of service attacks are “a form of civil disobedience, the same way marching in the street or blocking the entrance to a building in the civil rights era was.”

This is powerful imagery and powerful storytelling; Fein draws an analogy between the 1960s activists and today’s hacktivists.  Activities—like protests–designed to break down laws that supported racism and sexism were once illegal, but now we recognize that they were in support of justice.  Fein suggests that we should reach the same conclusion about hacktivists. DOS attacks in political contexts may be technically illegal but some day, he seems to be telling us, we will understand that they are actually stands on behalf of justice.

1963 March on Washington for civil liberties: prelude to hacktivism?

Fein also works with Telecomix, , a self-described “telecommunist cluster of internet and data loving bots and people … striving … to defend the free flow of data” on the Internet.  The group works with Syrian activists to help them maintain open communication lines.  This makes Fein a complicated figure from an American security perspective, because he approaches the world as a global citizen concerned with a universal civil right rather than as an American concerned with  protecting U.S. ‘cyber’ borders at home and hacking abroad in support of furthering U.S. interests.  At the same time, the history in which he places himself is a particularly American one, which suggests interesting possibilities for revitalizing an American narrative for a global era.

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