Will Arresting 'Anonymous' Members Help Or Hurt Anonymous?

from the just-wondering dept

I’m on record as saying that I think the activist hacking by groups like Anonymous, designed to take down websites in protest, are not particularly smart or useful. I will admit, however, that I’m surprised at how effective they’ve been in drawing additional media attention to certain stories, and how they really have helped drive two particular stories forward (the ACS:Law situation in the UK, and the HBGary Federal story in the US). And while I still don’t think it’s a particularly effective overall strategy, I must say that I find the whole effort (and similar efforts from “groups” like Lulz Security) fascinating. I’ve also pointed out that what may be even more interesting is how traditional law enforcement and governments can’t really grasp what they’re dealing with.

I think that point may be driven home with two separate governments claiming success in “arresting” Anonymous members. Spain got some attention for supposedly arresting three “Anonymous” members late last week, and then Turkey also got some attention for arresting “32 members.”

If these individuals were involved in actual criminal activities, then the arrests are perfectly reasonable. But if these governments actually understood what was going on, and actually understood what they were dealing with, they wouldn’t have said they were arresting members of “Anonymous,” which is hardly a group anyway, and the word “member” is misleading. Taking a traditional top down approach, these governments think that by announcing that they’ve “arrested Anonymous members,” they’re likely to scare people off from being a part of Anonymous. It’s very much speculation on my part, but knowing the sort of people involved, my guess is that it’s having exactly the opposite response. By presenting the people arrested as being a part of Anonymous, these governments are glorifying Anonymous, and adding to the allure. And the arrests are unlikely to scare off too many actual participants, since they quite likely think that they are better at covering their tracks… and as things move along, that will likely be true.

These governments could have easily arrested people and charged them with hacking without making the connection back to Anonymous. Making such statements is like responding to trolls on internet forums. It’s tough to resist sometimes, but it only encourages more such activity. And, of course, just as with trolls, this sort of thing really only plays into exactly what Anonymous wants. It builds up the group’s own profile, increases the very necessary mythology, and likely improves the efforts to do more such activities (while protecting participants even more).

In a world with increasingly distributed power, Anonymous and others are really a precursor to what’s coming down the road, demonstrating how certain forms of activism really don’t work the way people in power expect them to. I don’t agree with their specific tactics, but I’m fascinated by their ability (intended or not) to get companies and governments to play right into their strategy.

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Comments on “Will Arresting 'Anonymous' Members Help Or Hurt Anonymous?”

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51 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

I’m in damn near total agreement with you on this one, Mr. Masnick. I’m fascinated, appalled, and kinda…psyched about these groups, strange as it may sound. Even stranger – I, personally, don’t feel any great fear of them. Maybe I should, I don’t know. But my gut isn’t telling me I should. I don’t get that twist at the pit of my stomach like I do when I read about banks foreclosing on mortgages they don’t own, laws being considered like COICA or PIPA, or whatever round of TSA bullshittery is happening this week.

I fear my government and its actions far more than I fear anything like Anonymous or Lulzsec. Is that weird? Or does my gut know better than my brain?

Anonymous Coward says:

Traditional power structures...

…like governments and corporations, presume that everyone not only IS organized like they are, but that they MUST be.

This is why they fail so miserably when faced with amorphous entities like Anonymous or culture-sharers or remixers or terrorists or any other group that is not built as a hierarchy. It’s beyond their comprehension.

Anonymous Coward says:

I will start out by saying that beyond the reading interests I have no association with Anonymous nor any clue to what they are doing. It is through the reading of articles I pick up what small bit I know of them.

In many ways I support what they are doing or at least the ideas. They are not after permanent damage to places, corporations, governments, etc. but are mainly after exposure of wrong doing. While they have been involved with some of the Middle East strife, I can not think they have been major movers and shakers that have created nor furthered those upsets.

The favored weapon of choice, what is referred to as LOIC (or something similar) as a DDoS weapon leaves traces where ever they use it of those that supply the computer grunt power. I tend to think that if they are pushed to it, the results will be another type of DDoS attack that will leave no evidence back to the users. So far, Anonymous has taken the high moral road while thumbing their noses at those same wrong doers.

In all this, beyond the blocking of a website to access for a few hours or days, they have not damaged anything. They have not to my limited knowledge stole money, messed with the users of such sites. They have instead expressed their dislike or disapproval in a way that will be heard. Often doing it through channels makes as much sense as rushing in to save the fish in a flood.

Under their present operation, I tend to agree with you that it is likely to set up the martyr situation where more rush to join rather than some sort of controlling factor by example. One has to remember this is not one single country involved where everything can be controlled within the borders.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re:

One difference is that government has the force of law behind it. A military doesn’t hurt. You may have no recourse to the government censoring your speech. In fact, in [insert Soviet Russia joke here] some governments not only disappear your speech, they disappear YOU!

With citizens attacking your website, you may very likely get the government and its resources on your side.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

because ice isnt blocking sites, its taking them. use the analogy of a store, the difference here is that ice is the government knocking on the door one day and turning the sign out front to closed. Anonymous would be the crowd of protestors siting in front of the door.

I love that the mainstream and government have no idea what anonymous is.

i had thought it was a simple concept, when you are anonymous, theres no distinction beween you and the next person(comment, post, w/e) so they kind of meld together until it becomes everyone who is anonymous. thn after a few years of this the collective builds an identity, it is legion. liek a hivemind of sorts.

i had thought the days of anonymous being our private clubhouse was over, but apprently its still to hard for some peopleto comprehend

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Force

“Force” of Law is correct.

All authority stems ultimately from violence. (Like, duh.)

Governments may be formed by the will of the people, but when said government begins enforcing things against the peoples’ will, we are once again back to something which can only be described as Authoritarian.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

au?thor?i?tar?i?an

adjective /əˌTH?riˈte(ə)rēən/  /?ˌTH?r-/ 

1. Favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, esp. that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.
2. Showing a lack of concern for the wishes or opinions of others; domineering; dictatorial.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re:

OK, what’s the difference between:

1. A group of people picketing in front of a dishonest used car lot and shutting them down for a day, because they are tired of their dishonest tactics and want to make everyone aware by getting that message on the news.

and

2. The government shutting down the used car lot, not because they were dishonest, but because GM, Ford and Chrysler got together and decided that selling used cars should be illegal, because they’re not making enough profits and they bribed the local government to shut down the competitor.

If you can’t see the difference between the two, then I can’t help you.

sumquy (profile) says:

“I will admit, however, that I’m surprised at how effective they’ve been in drawing additional media attention to certain stories, and how they really have helped drive two particular stories forward (the ACS:Law situation in the UK, and the HBGary Federal story in the US)”

that’s because you don’t understand anonymous.

brief tutorial feel free to skip to next paragraph. on the one hand you have the populists, the ones who like to have everybody come together in a group ddos attack. then you have the elitists, the true hackers who break into the computers of business and government and expose all their dirty little secrets. finally, you have the chat rooms. it might help to think of it as a convention with thousands of people all running around and talking about what interests them and what they want to do. sumtimes sumbody says sumthing that captures the hives attention and a bunch of them will break off to go commit acts of mayhem. other times individuals will meet together in private rooms to compare notes on their own exploits, but their isn’t any leadership or even group consensus, statements from “anonymous” notwithstanding.

what’s interesting is how effective or not the two strategies are. the ddos attacks, designed to shut down websites and stop speech are ineffective and transitory. publicly humiliating the companies and individuals with their own words, however, is incredibly satisfying and compelling.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re:

“i had thought the days of anonymous being our private clubhouse was over, but apprently its still to hard for some peopleto comprehend”

It’s easy to understand, you are a bunch of do gooding, protectors of the innocent, light in the darkness, ally to good, nightmare to the oppressor types. You are an amorphous group of Goku wannabes. Keep up the good work. πŸ˜‰

Thanatos (profile) says:

We, being Anonymous, don’t attack sites that have not done anything. We attack sites that have done something to stop others from exercising their rights to free speech, free Internet or the free exchange of information WORLDWIDE. If Anonymous comes after you, then you have done something to oppress/suppress CITIZENS from being able to do those things. This also means that you are a corporation or government entity – NOT another citizen. There’s no need to ‘fear’ Anonymous being a citizen…..you should fear your government and the corporations that run it.

You are focusing on the the cyber-protests though. We also do physical protests worldwide as well…..Most Anons are NOT hackers/crackers, they are just everyday people who are sick and tired of corporations and governments controlling people as they do. We are lawyers, teachers, hackers, activists, steel mill workers, cops, doctors and every other walk of life. I personally have two degrees and am almost 50 years old – Anonymous is NOT about age, occupation or hacking ability. While I did hack, back in the old skool days, I rarely do anything any longer. I’ve been online since there was an “online” and information is what I provide, as well as some support operations and physical protesting when I can.

Being as loosely based as we are, it’s difficult to come up with any real numbers as to “members”, but it is well in excess of 100,000 worldwide at this point. In recent days, with all that is happening and the exposure we’ve had in the press, our numbers have increased a great deal.

As for the person who asked what the difference between us and ICE is…..If you haven’t figured that out by now, then there’s really no hope for you. If you can’t see the difference between those who seek to remove your freedom and oppress you daily, then you probably deserve what will be coming. You have a choice in life….To lie there and let the bullies who knocked you down continue to kick you, or to stand up and fight them. Your choice may be to lay there and get kicked like a bitch, but I’ll die fighting for my freedom, my kid’s freedom and your freedom – whether in cyberspace or on the ground facing them off!

*These are my words, NOT the words of the Anonymous collective. I have no authority to speak for all, merely myself.

jjmsan (profile) says:

Re:

There is not a difference. Both are a use of power and could be the subject of abuse. In the case of the US government there are rules in place to limit that power. The general consensus here is that the seizing of domains is breaking that rule. Government power can physically affect a person. So far as I am aware anonymous is only powerful in an online sense.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re:

I am exceptional in forecasting trends in things. One of the things I have taken an interest in recently is “the party of we”. The party of we includes Anonymous, Lulzsec, Human flesh search engines, wikileaks, the arab spring, darpas ballon challenge, and flash crowds (the real kind not the performing arts crap you see at train stations). One of the things I have noticed is, in every event, when a win is scored, or a person is arrested, these groups grow larger.

The problem for government is they have to respond, they cannot simply ignore when Sony is taken down, when HBGary is hacked, or when ACS laws email is raided.

To answer Mikes question, “Will Arresting ‘Anonymous’ Members Help Or Hurt Anonymous?” I have to say it will help Anonymous, and cause this to grow to a huge size in direct proportion to the governments response. It’s a feedback loop and a trap for governments and corporations worldwide.

aperson (profile) says:

One of the things i find really hilarious are those people (usually new on the interwebz) who’ve been claiming lately that it’s all a government op to justify a more locked down internet, against the threat of anonymous hackers.

These people missed the fact that the ship left quite awhile ago, the government no longer thinks it needs excuses, and a war to the knife is already in progress.

If you’re on the fence, download ToR and a Loic, hit an open wifi spot on a clean box and hang out in IRC until you find an op that appeals to you…then go exercise some fracking democracy. πŸ™‚

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Anonymous is made up of ordinary human beings; flawed, but with a basic sense of right and wrong. That’s why they don’t terrify you.

That aforementioned twist in the pit of your stomach comes from the subconscious realization that your government/corporations are evil, in the same way that a small child is evil. They demand whatever they want, and throw tantrums until they get it. And no matter how silly the demands, they keep getting their way.

An all-powerful spoiled brat. Sounds kinda familiar…

jonvaljon says:

the difference between ICE and Annon

ICE is a government agency, and bound to the laws of the land, AKA the constitution, specifically the bill of rights, amendment one; the freedom FROM censorship.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Historically, congress has been interpreted as meaning the federal government, in all its many forms. This is a constitutional law barring infringement of speech, which, includes websites, ala the recent ICE seizures.

Further more, the argument that streaming, pirating, whatever is illegal, and therefore the government’s responsibility to police, is absurd. Copyright infringement is a civil matter. Its a civil matter for a reason.

Annon on the other hand, are civilians. They are not required by the constitution to allow freedom of speech, because they are not a federal entity. To say otherwise, is to spit on the very concept of civil protest. Are union picketers walking the line not civilian protesters trying to exercise their freedom of speech, AKA the drowning out of an entity they deem to be morally bankrupt? There is a direct correlation between the two examples.

Regardless, civilians are not bound by the constitutional requirement to allow freedom of speech, so Annon can picket the servers of whoever the fuck they want. ICE on the other hand, is bound to our nations charter.

I hope this helps explain the difference between ICE seizures and Annon virtual sit-ins.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re:

I will see if mike will post another one of my posts here. I have been working on it on an off for about a month.

Here are the basics. The internet is allowing for a new sort of mob mentality. It’s based on the fact that anonymity allows for people to express their true concerns, knowing people with like concerns are out there gives people hope and causes growth, and people inherently know good from evil, all these things come together to allow “thoughtful mobs” to form.

Unlike a normal mobs, these thoughtful mobs think things through. They detect the lies, the shills, and the trolls and the truth bubbles to the surface. Several things of note are, with thoughtfull mobs the tipping point is much lower due to the anonymity, and there is a higher participation due to the size of the mob and the minimal chance of getting caught. All of this works against the governments, and businesses of the world, as it leads to a high speed escalation.

Two years ago, I noted that chinese human flesh search engines would likely come to the US in one form or another. Anonymous, Lulzsec, etc are that arrival. They ended up not being a US phenomena but a world wide one.

digger says:

The Media is not a target

One thing which is rarely mentioned is that on the irc from which the majority of these attacks have taken place, there is a golden rule –
Do Not Attack The Media.
No matter how flawed, no matter if it is just the states mouthpiece, or the strong fourth estate of the developed worlds democracys.
The sites which are targeted are often those of organisations with many resources and the ability to communicate their message across multiple lines of communication.
So when anonymous cuts of their websites, this is but one of the many voices available to said organisations.
So I am afraid that any accusation of anonymous preventing free speech does not stand.

TDR says:

The USTR doesn’t control the country’s money, Heph, the Fed does. That’s why I suggested them as a target, so their abuse of that role and the very puppetry involved in their entire existence will be exposed. Not to mention all their financial documents, the ones they won’t voluntarily release for a true audit (as suggested by Ron Paul). So Anon should involuntarily release them instead.

synonymous (profile) says:

Anonymous

Anonymous is the greatest activist organization in the world–bar none. Maybe Wikileaks comes a close second. They injure no one–physically. What they do is create havoc and fear in those who have, by law no less, no fear of anything.

I’m fine with billionars and Corporate shot callers fearing their precious little internets being destroyed or other wise fouled up. All The Corporats have done with the net is lobby Congress to further their own, already enormous, capital gains, which they don’t like to share with the rest of us.

Anonymous, and losely affiliated organizations like them, are needed more than law makers. Law makers can obviously be bought. Anon seems to loath money and only turns up when there’s internet points to be had. The only way you’ll get ride of them is by destroying the internet itself. But, I’m sure, they’ll find a way to make their own net and continue on being totally fucking awesome!

For those who don’t know, feel free to look up the inception of Anon, which comes from /b/–on a web-site I’d rather not mention. But, check the web-site out–DON’T POST ANYTHING!!!, just lurk a little and you’ll be fascinated by how such an effective organization sprang from such humble, and wired as shit web-site; it’s truly fascinating reading.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

You don’t fear anonymous right now because they aren’t aiming for your stuff. When they, you will likely feel different.

I would be interested to see what the opinion would be if Techdirt got repeatly hacked and defaced by anonymous because Mike Masnick calls them out on something or another. There would be an incredible amount of lulz to be had watching a free speech supporter getting whacked with excessive amounts of free speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Actually, you guys are incredibly easy to understand. A collection of social misfits, 15 year olds in Mom’s basement, college students who can’t get laid at a week long kegger, and adult males who look and act like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons.

As a group, you have found a way to “wield power”, gathering lulz because that is all your life adds up to. You aren’t activists with a cause, you are whining children who are upset because someone keeps taking your binky away.

It’s really not hard to figure out.

rl78 (profile) says:

Are you asking the right question?

“If these individuals were involved in actual criminal activities, then the arrests are perfectly reasonable.”

If we can say that the arrests are reasonable, justified and necessary, then the question of do these arrests and subsequent claims of some kind of success help or hurt Anonymous becomes more of a tactical consideration.

The question is does it help or hurt the people it is intended to help? They are being arrested because they were harming people.
That should be the focus.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

There would be an incredible amount of lulz to be had watching a free speech supporter getting whacked with excessive amounts of free speech.

Only if he reacts well. When my little sister stopped reacting I stopped tormenting her because it wasn’t entertaining anymore. I imagine Anons would react the same way if they were ignored.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Well, sure. But there are already those out there who are aiming for my stuff, it has ever been thus. The difference, for now, is that they aren’t out for public reactions nor do they have the weight of government behind them. Yet. I guess.

The person who stole my husband’s SS# to rack up debt some years back certainly wasn’t looking for anyone to know about what they did. We found out easily because she was known to us already and an utter moron besides. And back then, NO ONE would help us with it, not the banks that issued fraudulent cards, not the cops who needed a paper trail to start a report – paper we couldn’t get because the banks refused to fork it over because, get this: they were working it out with HER! HA! Like we could give a shit!

Anyways. We were failed by institutions back in the 90s that should’ve been making things right or at least easier for victims of such a thing. And these days…think about it: who’s more guilty of treasonous acts against the American people? Someone who releases a bunch of emails from diplomats complaining that their dinner companion smelled like feet, or a colossal industry run amok that sends not just the US but other nations to the brink of complete collapse that could have been avoided but for rampant greed and outright lies? AND THEN GETS BAILED OUT FOR IT?! By the same people THEY VICTIMIZED?!

(sorry for the caps, but how fucked up is that?)

The press industry doesn’t seem to be getting the job done, getting information that people need in anything like a clear manner. Who else is gonna do it?

Kato (profile) says:

They don't understand what they are dealing with

I think you hit on the main point. Governments and law enforcement agencies do not understand the structure of what Anonymous [and Lulz Sec] is. They haven’t yet discovered that they must combat this in an entirely different way. It will be interesting to see if the people arrested are shown to have committed crimes or are merely being brought in as guilty by association.

Kato (profile) says:

They don't understand what they are dealing with

I think you hit on the main point. Governments and law enforcement agencies do not understand the structure of what Anonymous [and Lulz Sec] is. They haven’t yet discovered that they must combat this in an entirely different way. It will be interesting to see if the people arrested are shown to have committed crimes or are merely being brought in as guilty by association.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

you shouldn’t worry about Anonymous. what they do is they attack/go after the unjust. they go after things that aren’t fair in their eyes and many other’s eyes. i know there was something going on in Britain regarding SOPA/PIPA and i was watching the comms between the group and when i saw what the British government was doing they were trying to pass SOPA without the consent of the people so they attacked the government and made them not pass it. i do not know every single part of what happened nor do i remember exactly what they were saying, but they aren’t unfair people. don’t piss em off and don’t treat them as your personal army you have absolutely nothing to worry about πŸ™‚

Anonymous Coward says:

Do not Be Afraid

The point of anonymous is to spread an idea. That idea is to want something more in life than to grow up, get a job, make money, and die. Anonymous is not a specified group, and as long as you share that idea, you are anonymous. We help those who have not yet woken up to the world’s truths and let them know that we can do something. Not all of anonymous is hackers, in fact, not too many are. For example, I for one have no idea how to hack and never plan to learn how, but I know that I have the ability to inspire people and show them the truth. There is no need to be afraid. We are anonymous. We are legion. We never forgive. We never forget. Expect us.

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