The danger is not that the counter-DDOS campaign being waged by a group of Wikileaks supporters called Anonymous and Anon Op, have the potential to escalate into destructive attacks against infrastructure, but rather that we are forgetting to draw a distinction between legitimate political expression and “cybercrime”.
South Africa’s constitution enshrines the right of every citizen to communications freedom, to receive or impart information and ideas. Furthermore, all South Africans possess political rights which include the right to assemble, to gather and to mobilise around specific issues as needs be.
Calling the online protest action against sites which sought to destroy Wikileaks, the dangerous work of criminals, is like calling a student sit in at a lunch counter, an armed uprising.
As John Perry Barlow says: “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.”
In an infowar there are no victims as such, the only thing which is harmed is information, the only activity which is disrupted is communication. While there are laws in place which make the disruption of communication an offense, consider this. If a person requests 1 html page, that person is considered a law-abiding citizen. If the same person requests 1000x pages that person is disrupting communications and is a criminal. Worse, he or she is branded an international terrorist.
Thus far the only tools being used in the campaign by Anonymous are load-testing tools which, if misused, have the side-effect of DDOS. They are hardly illegal. As we have seen, the campaign is not destructive and has only succeeded in disrupting communication to some target sites for 24hours or so. As an essay in the Economist argues, this is not the work of cyber-vigilantism, rather it is an example of Athenian democracy in action. Repeatedly reloading the pages of the sites in question, will have a similar effect.
Yet there are people who would seek to outlaw the possession of load-testing tools, to make it a crime to reload pages or to direct traffic to a website in protest.
When enough people engage in online protest action, the issue of political intent comes into play. What are the intentions of those who seek to disrupt the communication of Paypal and Mastercard? Clearly, the intention in this case, is to draw attention to the DDOS attacks against Wikileaks conducted by an invisible government. People have every right to question authority and to demand an Internet where rights are extended to all, regardless of ones politics.
I may not agree with the Anti-Anti-Wikileaks struggle, but I certainly do not agree with the Anti-Wikileaks campaign.