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Cyberterrorism, hacktivism: Trying to find hope

Anonymous fights Co$ while Chinese launch cyber attacks on human rights groups

Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Updated: Thursday, March 10, 2011 16:03

Watching the behavior of countries like China and the United States underscores one of the most important insights you can have into geopolitics: Essentially, the world community is in anarchy. The world stage is in a Hobbesian state of nature; there are no rules for those with enough strength or influence to avoid them.Consider, for instance, the United Nations' lack of concern for the situation in Tibet. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for restraint, but given China's status as a permanent member of the Security Council, there's no hope of any aid or justice coming to the providence from the organization.

In fact, according to the Associated Press, the Security Council has never debated Tibet and its issues have not been raised by the General Assembly since 1965. Its treatment of Tibet is just one of the many abuses that the Chinese government continues to get with simply because it has the power to do so.

However, the geopolitical arena is not the only international stage essentially in anarchy. The Internet provides many people who have an above-average technical prowess to establish themselves as powerful members of an loosely regulated and hard-to-control domain of virtual interaction that can translate into real influence.

For example, look at the Internet phenomena that is Anonymous, the collective formed by some visitors to image-sharing Web sites where users are typically listed as anonymous. Imageboards like (which a friend once described as being where the worst people on the Internet hang out) provided a vehicle for a loose association of people who decided to take on one of the scariest organizations to target: the Church of Scientology (sometimes pejoratively called "Co$" online just like Microsoft is sometimes called "M$.")

The non-group sponsored protests on Feb. 10 and March 15 (church founder L. Ron Hubbard's birthday) in front of Church of Scientology buildings across the world. Many participants sported Guy Fawkes masks to draw attention both to their identity as Anonymous and the Church of Scientology's abuse of litigation and coercion to suppress anti-Scientology viewpoints. The Web site says the next wave of protests is scheduled for April 12 and provides information on how to join the effort.

Perhaps the most striking scene from the protests so far came out of Atlanta, specifically the Georgia Church of Scientology in Dunwoody, where YouTube videos showed riot police arresting protestors on March 15.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in all five protestors were cited under an ordinance against "causing 'hazardous' or 'offensive' conditions." Eight motorists were also pulled over for honking their horns, being ticketed for excessive use of horns.

In response to Anonymous' efforts, representatives of the Church of Scientology made several statements. In a report for the Los Angeles Times, David Sarno wrote, "The church has referred to Anonymous as a group of 'cyberterrorists' and, in a statement, said the group's aims were 'reminiscent of al-Qaida spreading anti-American hatred and calling for U.S. destruction."

In milder terms, representatives of the church have called Anonymous bigoted and hateful. The church has compared Anonymous to Nazis, communists and terrorists, just to name a few things.

What Anonymous really has done is far less ominous: It has staged protests and, yes, some of its members have engaged in milder forms of "hacktivism," the merger of activism and hacking. Looking at the situation online, it seems likely that Anonymous has perpetrated denial-of-service attacks, faxing pages of black ink to the church, spamming its members e-mail accounts, etc.

Compared to the amount of censorship and litigation the Church of Scientology has done to online forums (example: the 2001 forcing of a link to the text of "OT III" off, for example), this sort of pretty vandalism has a sort of cathartic justice to it. (Of course, that doesn't make it legal; it only seems to make it more a matter of free speech and legitimate protest than the simple, pointless crime it would otherwise be.)

If you want a look at real cyberterrorists, you need only glance across the Pacific to China, which seems to be allowing if not supporting systematic cyber attacks against pro-Tibet and human rights groups.

According to the Washington Post, attacks from computers in China have been made not only to groups like Students For a Free Tibet and the Tibet Support Network but also to the Save Darfur Coalition. The Post reported on March 21 that "the allegation fits a near decade-old pattern of cyber-espionage and cyber-intimidation by the Chinese government against critics of its human rights practices, experts said."

This is going on while the Chinese government sends troops to suppress Tibetans and quell protests that began on March 10 on the anniversary of a failed 1959 revolt.

The Chinese refuse to allow foreign journalists from the region, and information is nearly impossible to pin down. On Sunday, Reuters reported than the Chinese state news agency Xinhua claimed 94 people - mostly police - had been injured in the area; more accurate numbers are speculated but not verified.

With the international community seemingly unable to motivate China to seek a non-violent solution to the Tibetan issue, it seems that there is not much hope to be had by the followers of the Dalai Lama. The point is underscored by reports of His Holiness renewing his threat to resign as the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile if violence is used in the struggle for freedom in the region.

Nevertheless, although their situation and motivations are utterly different than the bored college students and 15-year-olds on 4chan, perhaps efforts like Anonymous' continued protests of Scientology show that there still is hope for grassroots movements to overcome even Goliath-like opponents like China.

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