The past week’s DDOS protest campaign against websites and businesses which pulled the plug on Wikileaks brings back memories of the 1994 Intervasion of the UK. The electronic disruption and email jamming collective action called in response to John Major’s Criminal Justice Bill briefly shut down access to the Internet for some of the UK’s top ranking politicians. It was the first use of the online tactic for the purposes of legitimate civil disobedience and ushered in a new age of “Infowar and Cyberbattle”.
“This will do for the Internet, what Tiananmen Square did for the fax machine”, read one of the Intervasion flyers, distributed via email. “Tim Leary wants you for the Virtual Invasion of Great Britain” read another, as the protest action joined a book launch of Leary’s Chaos & Cyberculture, where the Zippies intervened by “kidnapping Tim and forcing him to DDOS the web page of John Major” according to his publisher Ronin Press.
I was one of the cohort of “zen inspired pronoia professionals” aka zippies who had lugged computer equipment over to the 181 club in San Francisco on Guy Fawkes night to engage in an act of electronic civil disobedience in protest against a UK law which outlawed outdoor raves and festivals and which also sought to ban “music with a repetitive beat” along with the rights of ravedom at large. While across the Atlantic, the Club Megatripolis crew were painting a battle tank in dayglow colours in preperation for a protest rave in Hyde Park, I was in the USA orchestrating the world’s first mass email and DDOS protest action.
Although the public side of the campaign focused on the use of hyperbole such as digital “mail-bombs” and “email as a weapon” it was generally peaceful and even bourgois from the standpoint of activism in the South, where most South Africans had just emerged from an armed conflict pitting democrats against white supremacists.
A group of committed hackers therefore began jamming the network, and for at least a week, there was a virtual free-for-all. With little communication infrastructure, except for an Apple Powerbook, a modem, and the ability to troll the 2600 hacker forum and alt.rave, via a 1400 bits-per-second Bay Area BBS called the Cyberden, I managed to assemble a legion of would-be hackers committed to the cause – Give Peace a Dance – said Mixmaster Morris.
Strip away the gaming and hacker lingo, and an unruly bunch of online hippies, cyber-crusties, unix freaks and digital teens emerges. Much like the call to LOIC which went out last week, as twitterers started handing out a simply load-testing tool modified to look like a destructive “Low Orbit Ionising Cannon”, — the only difference between a law abiding citizen who loads 1 HTML page, and a politically subversive “hacker” who reloads 1000x HTML pages (only to be told by the authorities that he or she is a vandal or worse, an international terrorist), — is that while the former may be aware that those same authorities routinely deny services to sites which confront political authority the way Wikileaks does, the latter knows this to be the case, and does something about it. Denying services in return, is the only legitimate way to fight back.
Resistance against authority should be built into our digital genome, if it is not, then I suggest we start doing so. Think about it. We have an Athenian democracy of citizens, not a totalitarian state of consumers. Removing Wikileaks from the internet domain name registry provided by ICANN without providing a lawful means of contesting the order (Wikileaks was simply placed on a covert watchlist by the US government, triggering a denial of service by corporates), reduces us all to the status of peasants.
Denial of basic services is the experience of the average person in the developing world.
Calling the DDOS protests over the past week, the work of hackers is like calling students at a lunch counter sit-in terrorists. (See Richard Stallman response)
Unless something is done to protect fundemental human rights in the new terrain we call the Internet, then militarisation is inevitable. The result is totalitarianism. A global order based not on civil liberties, but upon fear, aggression, vigilantism, rule by the few over the majority.
I therefore have no qualms in saying: The 1994 Intervasion of the UK greets YOU. We are Legion, and we support the resistance.
Before a crowd of 800+ drawn from Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, gathered on Guy Fawkes night, I explained the significance of the 1994 Intervasion – this “was the first such global vote using the Internet as a means of defense against a fascist government.”
The recent change in strategy by Anonymous, from initially targeting websites to jamming corporate fax machines may be seen as a homage to the original meme which started both the Intervasion and the Wikileaks protest action. The fax machine came into its own at Tiananmen Square. It was used, both as a weapon and as means of struggle for masses of students who had risen up in defiance of an autocratic and dictatorial state. Like Tiananmen, both the Intervasion and the Wikileaks protests are bound to be crushed.
Nor are events of the past week a once off ”Glitch” as Professor of Media Studies Douglas Rushkoff would have it. Rather like the army of Lilliput waging “armed combat with silver pins” against Gulliver in a fantastic fable of resistance, this is the only way the Lilliputian army has a chance of winning. It is Gulliver who is persuaded to play along with the ruse that, yes, there is a great and noble legion willing and able to kick a giant in the shins.
Let us therefore put aside the fears of what an escalation of virtual vandalism and the militerisation of cyberspace will bring, with the kind of wild rhetoric expressed by the digirati — Electronic Frontier Foundation’s John Perry Barlow who believes the Wikileaks counter-DDOS campaign is in fact “the first serious infowar“. Like the equally serious Intervasion, last week’s events are hugely symbolic. The arena of battle may be Wikileaks, but we are not simply the troops. No Mr Barlow, we are Anonmyous, we are the Revolution, we are the People slouching towards an Open Source Democracy in which, not only
Information is Free, but everyone is FREE, and that includes US.