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Vision: How Hacker Activists Are Risking Jail for Everyone's Right to Internet Freedom

Since WikiLeaks, authorities have been more aggressive about arresting citizen cyber activists. Yet new actions by the biggest "hacktivists" show they're willing to risk it.

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While LulzSec's actions raise some legal issues as to how the information was attained, the more compelling -- and inspiring -- issue is the moral one: addresses are one thing, but what if the dump reveals information that shows the AZ police force was being overtly racist (on government computers!) or engaging in illegal behavior? Isn't this the kind of thing the public has a right to know about? (And, in fact, they did discover that the AZ police force was being overtly racist, illegal and unethical -- including hiring contracted Marines to go "migrant hunting" -- in case that is somehow surprising to you.) In a way, LulzSec is transforming itself into a self-standing whistleblower, with an explicitly political manifesto: "Every week we plan on releasing more classified documents and embarassing [sic] personal details of military and law enforcement in an effort not just to reveal 
their racist and corrupt nature but to purposefully sabotage their efforts to terrorize communities fighting an unjust 'war on drugs.'" Think what you want about their tactics -- the fact is, LulzSec is on our side. 

And in certain ways, these groups were been inspired and/or liberated by the global prominence (and power) of Wikileaks. Think back to December, when Anonymous launched "Operation Payback," in which they crippled credit card companies and banks like Visa and Mastercard to punish them for blocking payments to the information site. The latter two sites were shuttered for the better part of a day, and a spokesperson for the group told Agence France Presse they were targeting those with an "anti-WikiLeaks agenda." Not long after, Dutch authorities fingered two Dutch teenagers for the hack -- 19-year-old Martijn Gonlag, and another 16-year-old, who allegedly confessed. In an interview with TechEye, Gonlag was calm but resolute, though he publicly renounced his hacker tactics (as many do... publicly). "While I want to keep working for the things I believe in, I will of course do it now, as always, in legal ways.” he said.

In January, a month after the Dutch teens were arrested for the WikiLeaks money hacks, five people -- ranging in age from 15 to 26 -- were detained in the UK for allegedly having a hand in it as well. Then, on January 27, the FBI announced they were conducting raids stateside, producing over 40 search warrants across the country. In response, Loz Kaye, leader of Pirate Party UK, condemned the arrests, and pointed out the hacks were a form of citizen’s resistance. "These arrests, and comments by ACPO threatening 'more extreme tactics' to deal with hacktivists represent a worrying ratcheting up of confrontation. Many in the online community frankly feel under siege. It is time for engagement from mainstream politicians, or otherwise radicalization can only increase."

The Pirate Party is another groundbreaking group that non-web-entrenched progressives should familiarize themselves with; they run on a specific platform of "represent[ing] the changes demanded by technology that governments and industries are resisting with all their might." And for them, perhaps said radicalization comes in the form of hacking masterclasses for senior citizens, held last month in order to teach the elderly how to obtain euthanasia assistance blocked by government filters. Earlier this month, they released a statement and action against the UK's Digital Economy Act, which would block specific websites and "threat[en] freedom of expression, would harm innocent and vulnerable people, and are wholly disproportionate measures."

This month has been a particularly banner one for the crackdown on hackers, yet most news outlets are focusing on their arrests rather than the reasons for their actions. For instance, on June 10, three alleged members of Anonymous were arrested in different Spanish cities for attacking government websites in Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand. The Spanish government called the hackers a “threat to national security.” Yet if you look at a list of the countries attacked, you note that each has enforced forms of internet censorship, keeping its citizens from information that could be vital to their liberation.  It's hard to reconcile the hypocrisy that our own president thinks he can wage physical war in Libya without Congressional approval, yet a few hackers -- likely very young -- can't get away with cyber crackdowns that aren't killing anyone. The whole world praised Facebook for its role in disseminating information about the Egyptian uprising.... yet those protesting the government censorship of such sites are being arrested?