Online activist group lashes out against the Justice Department
Anonymous is slowly becoming less and less so.
The so-called “hacktivist” group Anonymous, known for its high-profile digital attacks on major corporations and other international bodies, is in the news again, this time for taking on the U.S. Justice Department.
Since its development in 2003 on the message board 4chan, Anonymous has carried out hacking and censoring campaigns in favor of torrenting site The Pirate Bay and file-hosting site Megaupload, taken on the Church of Scientology in a stated aim to “expel the church from the Internet,” and hacked multiple Israeli government websites to protest the nation’s treatment of Palestine, among other targets.
The group, while largely undefinable and therefore unidentifiable (hence the name), is anarchic and seems to oppose Internet censorship, surveillance and government corruption. It is seen by many as a “digital Robin Hood,” and its members identify themselves in public by wearing Guy Fawkes masks, a nod to anarchism and freedom from oppression.
In a Feb. 29, 2012, debate in Canada’s House of Commons, liberal Minister Marc Garneau expressed his concerns about the threat Anonymous posed to the Canadian government. “First, who is this group called Anonymous? Put simply, it is an international cabal of criminal hackers dating back to 2003, who have shut down the websites of the U.S. Department of Justice and the F.B.I. They have hacked into the phone lines of Scotland Yard. They are responsible for attacks against MasterCard, Visa, Sony and the Governments of the U.S., U.K., Turkey, Australia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand.”
Now, less than a year later, having successfully hacked the Pentagon, Anonymous has taken on the Justice Department.
On Jan. 25, in an operation known as Last Resort, Anonymous hacked the website of the United States Sentencing Commission in retaliation for the suicide death of “hacktivist” Aaron Swartz on January 11.
The Commission’s site was inoperative for some time over the weekend due to the hacking. In addition, Anonymous made several pages editable, defacing the site’s content and posting a video statement to the main page indicating the attack’s connection to Swartz’s suicide.
Swartz, who was 26, was an influential computer programmer involved in the development of the web feed format RSS and the social network Reddit. He was arrested in January of 2011 for downloading and illegally disseminating articles from the journal archive JSTOR; Swartz condemned the site’s practice of compensating journal publishers, rather than article authors, out of the membership fees the site collects. He also asserted that the existence of a membership fee restricted public access to scholarship done with public funding.
If convicted, Swartz would have faced over thirty years in prison.
The criminal proceedings against Swartz were seen by many as overly zealous. According to the BBC, “Swartz’s family released a statement blaming [his suicide on] ‘intimidation’ and ‘prosecutorial overreach’ from the criminal justice system.”
“Two weeks ago today, a line was crossed,” the statement released by Anonymous on the Commission’s website said. “Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win…
“The federal sentencing guidelines … enable prosecutors to cheat citizens of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to a fair trial, by a jury of their peers [and] are a clear violation of the 8th amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments.”
This latest strike against the U.S. Justice Department is just one of several recent Anonymous attacks.