Thursday, September 18, 2008

Anonymous v. Palin

Anonymous, the internet-based group that has recently taken on Scientology, has stepped up its vigilantism by hacking Sarah Palin's personal e-mail account, assumedly to find E-mails containing public office business. Screen shots of the hack were posted on Gawker and Wikileaks (which is the slowest site on the internet right now). The Wikileak angle makes the act look like whistleblowing.

Now, there has been growing talk about whether/how much public business Palin conducted through her personal e-mail. This is a very serious and potentially illegal activity because records of business communication are public records and become very tricky to obtain (legally and technically) from a private account. Yes, Palin is accused of a very serious ethical and legal violation in doing this. However, hacking her E-mail is also a very serious crime because of who she is (hence the involvement of the Secret Service and FBI). What does this indicate about Anonymous' self-conception and direction? Should we be particularly afraid? Should we be happy?

Recent Anonymous activity has focused (very valiantly in my opinion) on protesting Scientology for breaking up families, kidnapping, violating non-profit status through profit-making schemes, and other worse and lesser crimes. Their actions have included protests in front of Scientology buildings, hacking Scientology websites, and publicizing their claims. Nothing at the level of Palin or publishing personal information (recently, as far as I know). They do have a more sordid past, but there's little I can find factually about those times. (Side Note: the Palin incident with the earlier activities may put Anonymous in boiling water.) Now, they've stepped up to one of the most visible political figures in the country with a direct confrontation that involves unabashed criminality. That's a lot of exposure wrapped up in a very starkly defined situation.

The basics driving Anonymous thus far has been pretty clear and well-founded - revealing and stymying the blatantly illegal/abusive use of power. But, some people have questioned their sincerity, veracity, and self-control and a number of boards are lighting up around these notions. I'm not one of those people, I think their motives and information are clear. However, I am concerned about the level of infiltration this time. Following the same principles, they have now launched an attack on a public figure using illegal activity. Yeah, hacking a website and altering its content crosses legal lines, but publicizing stolen personal information is a much clearer crime. Should I be personally afraid? No, I'm not abusing power. I could suffer collateral damage if Anonymous used more viral methods (though they seem, so far conscientious of limiting their troublesomeness to the tyrant). So, I and I think others should be worried about expanding methods and outspokeness. But at the same time, their principles leave us alone and provide us a strong arm against corruption. We have to take Vigilante Ethics much more seriously.

What do I predict? There may be much more information gathered from the hacking which has yet to be released. All of the documentation I've found right now was meant to validate that the account was Palin's (contact list, pictures, confirmed e-mails). The purpose of the breach was probably to find public business and, ideally, dirty business. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that Palin did use her private account for public business, so there is reason to expect that there was some solid evidence gathered. We may see that soon. If that comes out, Anonymous will come under an incredible amount of pressure and it will continue the polarizaiton in the U.S. since Palin was introduced. If there is a real case to be made, the truth may overshadow the hacking. If the evidence is weak, revealing it will feed the prevailing discourse that liberals are out to get Palin.

Keep your eyes and ears open for a bigger scandal


Jason said...

Update: Artvoice offers a 4chan (anonymous' "home") account of what happened According to it, there was nothing in the account. The issue may just die out and anonymous will remain a quiet message board and anti-Scientology activists.

Jason said...

Also: I am overstating the Chanology portion of Anon in describing the whole collective. The "core" of anon is much more random. Though, I will say that reducing them to "random nihilistic 14 yr olds" ignores Chanology for the 4chan boards.