By Tristan Miller-Lammert, Trending Writer
It started with virus programs like “Worms Against Nuclear Killers” (WANK) and e-mail spamming. A late 80’s into 90’s trend, computer activism or hacktivism became really popular in a short amount of time, and by the 2000’s, the term hacktivism had been coined.
The best known group in the hacktivist revolution is Anonymous, a loose band of outlaws hiding behind Guy Fawkes masks and the darkest parts of the web. They have been involved with everything from the Church of Scientology, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and they have now turned their attention to Islamic extremists, ISIS.
These days, hacktivist culture is attaining closer ties to global affairs. Meanwhile, social media is becoming a place where terror groups like ISIS can spread their propaganda. As these two worlds are coming together, the future of activism and global politics is becoming interesting.
A main reason for the rise of groups like Anonymous is because computers allow a huge power swing in today’s techy world. “It [hacktivism] is relatively easy to conduct… [and] people with little or no technical skill can use free, user-friendly tools…to launch… attacks” (Dorothy Denning, The Rise of Activism). Unlike traditional demonstration, hacktivism is not immediately dangerous to protestors.
There is a great deal of power online through hacking and Anonymous usually sticks it to whoever they are after. Despite this, the waters get murky as we look to a future where hacktivism is commonplace.
First off, it is not that easy to prosecute hackers. This is true even though “most of the cyber-attacks performed by hacktivists are illegal under domestic crime statutes” (Denning). Tracing attacks can just be a mess and damages are not large enough to justify full blown investigations.
On the international scene, countries often do not have complementary laws regarding hacktivism and cooperation is scarce. The European Union’s Convention on Cybercrime, for example, has not been signed by Russia and several other countries.
Even though the Charter of the United Nations applies to cyberspace, there are nifty loopholes for Anonymous members to exploit. The international law of armed conflict (LOAC) prohibits its members from using force against other states in the U.N. but, cyber warfare does not use the kind of force this charter refers to. Few cyber-attacks ever actually cause any damage at all.
It is clear that policy has to be revamped. NATO itself is updating its Tallinn Manual, which applies LOAC to cyber-warfare. Tallinn 2.0 will focus on tailoring international law to the actions of groups like Anonymous.
Hacktivism is a staple of freedom-of-speech around the world. As “not only a popular means of activism, but also of national power”, groups like Anonymous are directly shaping the future of international law and politics.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, December 8th print edition.
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