Is one of the biggest digital rabble-rousers about to go legit?
Not quite, but Anonymous, the hacktivist collective that's been on a months-long rampage breaking into corporate and government networks, says it will partner with the Occupy movement to urge people to vote in the November elections.
The activist group today announced a new joint effort to hold politicians accountable to the people.
"Last year, many of our elected officials let us down by giving in to deep-pocketed lobbyists and passing laws meant to boost corporate profits at the expense of individual liberty," the groups said in an online flyer. "Our senators and representatives showed how little they cared about personal freedoms when they voted overwhelmingly to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)."
The NDAA allows for the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without trial and requires military custody for foreign terrorism suspects. Civil libertarians allege that the law applies to U.S. citizens, that it violates due process and other constitutional rights and gives the military authority to engage in civilian law enforcement.
And then there's the proposed SOPA/PIPA (Stop Online Piracy Act/Protect IP Act) measures, which have been in limbo since Wikipedia, Google, and other sites staged blackouts and other actions to protest the legislation. Anonymous and other opponents argue such a measure would give authorities broad power to shut down Web sites for the mere accusation that they had pirated content on them.
Anonymous launched denial-of-service attacks on the Web sites of the Justice Department, the FBI, Universal Music, the Motion Picture Association of America, and others in an anti-SOPA protest after the arrest of the founder of the file-hosting site MegaUpload for alleged piracy.
"Even if the goal was to merely regulate pirated content, the ambiguous wording demonstrates that the authors and supporters of SOPA and PIPA have little-to-no understanding of the Internet's architecture or the frightening implications of the legislation," Anonymous writes.
The collective urges people to hold elected officials accountable for supporting NDAA, SOPA, and PIPA. (The activists have also been active in opposing the European antipiracy law called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
"We are calling on voters, activists and keyboard warriors under all banners to unite as a single force to unseat the elected representatives who threaten our essential freedoms and who were so quick to minimize our individual constitutional rights for a quick corporate profit," the statement says, followed by a list of senators and representatives who are up for reelection this year.
In a seemingly contradictory message, an Anonymous video went up today calling for a "revolution," saying that voting has been "useless" and declaring a war on the United States over the proposed Cyber Security Act of 2012, which critics say is too broad and could authorize wiretapping and curtail civil liberties.
"We are not calling upon the collective to deface or use a distributed denial-of-service attack on a United States government agency Web site or affiliate. We are not calling upon the people to occupy a city or protest in front of a local building. This has not brought on us any legislative change or alternate law. It has only brought us bloodshed and false criticism," the video says. "For the last 12 years, voting was useless. Corporations and lobbyists are the true leaders of this country and are the ones with the power to control our lives. To rebuild our government, we must first destroy it."
The Anonymous actions have grown increasingly political in nature, with operations organized in support of labor movements in Mexico, charity workers in Florida, and pro-democracy movements in Syria and other countries. The online activists heavily promoted the Occupy movement when it emerged last September as Occupy Wall Street and helped organize offshoots in other cities.
And the group has taken numerous actions in support of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, including targeting PayPal, MasterCard and other financial sites that had suspended payments to the whistleblower Web site in late 2010.
This past weekend, WikiLeaks began publishing confidential e-mails Anonymous affiliate AntiSec allegedly stole from global security analyst firm Strategic Forecasting, better known as Stratfor. In the several hundred e-mails released so far, there are purportedly 5,000 total, topics range from insider information on the 2008 U.S. presidential election to paying off media sources and global spying, according to WikiLeaks.
While much of the group seems focused on using the Internet to promote and organize online and offline protest and civil disobedience, some continue to attack police and government Web sites in furtherance of their anti-authoritarian sentiment and for the "lulz," hacker lingo for "laughs." Last Friday, AntiSec defaced the Web site of a private firm that operates prisons, Geo Group, to protest alleged corruption in the for-profit incarceration industry.
But Andrew Metcalf of the Watch D.C. blog sees the Stratfor hack and data dump as a real turning point for Anonymous. "I've always thought of Anonymous as knee-jerking graffiti artist rebels," he writes. "This marks a turn for the hacking collective that has remained relatively embedded in niche internet communities like IRC and 4chan. It shows a realization that their work, which has been maligned as vandalism, has a broader value than them just flexing their muscles."
The group is very active on Twitter and other social media sites, using them to spread their message, organize actions and disseminate photos and slick videos. The efforts have garnered Anonymous a nomination for the Shorty Awards in the #activism category. The awards honor real-time short form content on social media sites.