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Wikileaks, Anonymous Hackers, and an Excuse for the UN

Vigilantism, in cyberspace or a New York subway, gets rejected in the main because more than just one vigilante results in an unlovely chaos. What the Anonymous cyber-vigilantes—those meting out “payback” for commercial decisions about Wikileaks—don’t seem to realize is that chaos begets reaction, and in this case the victim may be the Internet itself.

Anonymous Carpenters of Their Own Coffins

The current Wikileaks maelstrom unfolds in a wider context than the Anonymous hackers are willing to see. The reach for transparency that is central to Wikileaks’ actions (let us leave aside whether we approve) is this very month being considered by the same governments that are busy trying to perform damage control. The UN General Assembly will next week vote on a framework for Internet governance. 2011 will see various UN and civil society groups review what the longer-term rules should be for the World Wide Web. Even if countries that matter (China, Russia, Brazil) were not already in the process of inveigling users of the Internet into a more regulated environment, they now have a de facto mandate to tighten the rules of access to, and content in, cyberspace. What’s more, they may have just this week won some improbable allies: the industry that makes the Internet work.

Transparency Is for Amazon Too

In their zeal to defend the alleged transparency of Wikileaks, the Anonymous attackers of operations at Amazon, Mastercard, and PayPal have slapped in the face the very enablers of a transparent and vibrant Internet. By impairing commerce, and punishing rational economic actors for dropping any association with Wikileaks, these hackers risk turning an industry that was once aligned with them towards reconsideration of what constitutes responsible self-governance and light-touch regulation. It would not be unreasonable for Amazon to choose, after a week of vigilante assaults, to support more levers of control in the jurisdictions in which they trade. What that means in the UN context is not a little more oversight from a friendly US Federal Communications Commission. It also means more oversight for from the people who bring you only state-run news, who block foreign and opposition transmissions and, as we learned this week, close down Google in their country of 1.3b people because they were unflattered by profiles that search engine threw up in response to their name.

Until Seventy Times Seven

As the United Nations and the World Summit on the Information Society Forum debate, in the coming days and months, what to do about this suddenly over-pesky Internet, it will take significant fortitude and forgiveness from governments not, as they shake off the non-news in the US diplomatic dispatches (Is it a surprise that the Arabs mistrust Iran? That China regards Kim Jong-Il as puerile and petulant? That Qaddafi really is the very queerest of fish?), also to plump for restricting access to the very Web that enabled their public flogging. If they do, the well-meaning Anonymous hackers will have much more to complain about. But if those same hackers relent today, they may avoid joining the voices of their victims with those who call for more state control of the Internet that supports and hides them.

By Gregory Francis, Managing Director at Access Partnership

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Bravo ... dittos Fred Showker  –  Dec 10, 2010 6:08 PM

Gregory, thank you for that article! Not only is it spot-on, but very elegantly and succinctly written. I seriously enjoyed reading it—and hope others (the ones who SHOULD read it) consider those words carefully.



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