The continuing DDoS attacks on major commercial websites in support of Operation Avenge Assange raise some interesting questions about internet freedom.
The online collective dubbed “Anonymous”, a group of individuals from various message boards and online fora have established their own “voluntary botnet”. This is being used to target sites which have suspended or terminated their services with Wikileaks in the wake of the latest publication of formerly confidential material. Sites targeted so far have included Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, EveryDNS, Sarah Palin & the Swedish Prosecution Authority among others.
The DDoS attacks against these sites have been made by computers using a modified version of Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) which Anonymous supporters choose freely to install. This voluntary DDoS bot is controlled via IRC giving coordinators the ability to act quickly and decisively against discrete targets.
These recent attacks (as well as previous attacks relating to online file-sharing prosecution activity) have been, and are being carried out in the name of internet freedom by volunteer supporters of the cause.
What is internet freedom? Is it freedom for a company to choose the individuals with whom they wish to do business as long as the choice is made under a published code of conduct and within the law? Is it freedom to express a political or emotional opinion according to the dictates of your conscience?
Is it freedom to publish information relating to activity which you believe to be wrong or reproachful in order to expose and highlight the activity? Is it freedom to be able to divulge other people’s secrets simply because words spoken in private are often ridiculous, outrageous or amusing when repeated in public? Is it freedom that in making your statement you deny millions of other people access to their own freedoms or in many cases their own livelihoods?
The truth is, freedoms collide. For every bit of freedom one person asserts, whether internet or otherwise, someone else will lose some of their own. When a relatively small, loose collective of individuals come together; with the power and the will to remove content they disagree with from the internet, almost at will, at what point does that stop being freedom? When do we stop burning bras and find we started burning books?
Freedom and censorship may very well be two sides of the same coin. Heads, or tails?