The growing backlash against the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and the suspension of Internet hosting and financial funding services such as MasterCard, Visa and Paypal (through which Wikileaks was receiving donations) have led to retaliation by so-called ‘hacktavists’ in the form of DOS and other cyber-attacks against the websites of MasterCard, Visa, Paypal, and those Internet hosting and DNS services which have disconnected Wikileaks, in some cases bringing the services to their knees. Paypal was brought down yesterday, as were MasterCard and Visa.
While bringing the sites down may not have been the stated objective, down they went. “I was surprised Visa and MasterCard went down,” said Gregg Housh, who is involved with the hacking group responsible for organizing and recruiting for the cyber attacks. The group of loosely organized Wikileaks supporters, who download a program which turns their computer into a website killing machine, are calling themselves “Anonymous”.
It is estimated that there are currently about 3000 volunteer DOSers in the Anonymous network (think SETI, only using their computers to DOS targets instead of searching for aliens), and at least as many computers. And the number is rapidly growing.
However, says Housh, they are running out of targets. “So far today, no one has stood up and said, ‘Me next,'” says Housh.
Yet, says Jeff Chester, with the Center for Digital Democracy, the companies who have cut off Wikileaks may have valid reasons.
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“None of those companies want to be singled out for helping undermine American national security.”
Meanwhile, the question of whether these suspensions of services amounts to an illegal suppression of free speech remains.
Generally speaking, it is the government who is prohibited from infringing on the right to freedom of speech, and MasterCard, Visa, Paypal, the Internet hosts, etc., as private entities, would be well within their rights to refuse service to whomever they like (or dislike). They are not what is known in the legal lingo as ‘government actors’.
However, the government has acted to induce these companies to cut Wikileaks off, so that muddies things quite a bit. Again, as Jeff Chester points out, “None of those companies want to be singled out for helping undermine American national security.” So when the government requested that Wikileaks be cut off, thses private companies obliged.
But what about the contracts which Wikileaks had with at least some of the companies. Ah well, you see, those contracts almost always have clauses which say that the provider can cut off the customer if the customer is engaged in illegal activity. So, government officials have conveniently stated that Wikileaks has broken the law, which may well (or may not) be true.
And make no mistake, there are still a trove of diplomatic cables yet to be released by Wikileaks, which no doubt the government does not want released. Remember that these are confidential cables, some of which relate to contemporary situations. Behind the scenes the government may well be panicking and legitimately worried about national and operative security.
Unfortunately, regardless of what the facts will reveal and the final outcome will be, to much of the rest of the world this has not only caught us with our pants down, but with the depantsing revealing us in a most unflattering light.
“Why was Mr. Assange hidden in prison? Is this democracy?” asked Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. And, said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva,
“This WikiLeaks guy was arrested and I’m not seeing any protest for freedom expression. There is nothing, nothing for freedom of expression and against the imprisonment of this guy who was doing better work than many of the ambassadors.”
However, this all neglects the fact that Assange, who was arrested earlier this week, was arrested for something not only having nothing to do with Wikileaks, but for questioning by another country having nothing to do with the U.S., over allegations that were made before the Wikileaks / diplomatic cables scandal even happened, and from which Assange was hiding out in London to avoid detection and detention.
Assange is wanted by Sweden over allegations of sex-related crimes involving two different women.
Specifically, said Sweden’s attorney in London during the hearing following Assange’s arrest this week, Assange is wanted in Sweden over allegations of rape and molestation, among other things such as refusing to wear a condom and then not taking ‘no’ for an answer. In one instance, the allegations say, the condomless Assange initiated sex with a woman in whose home he was a houseguest while the woman was sleeping.
Obviously Assange’s detention is not so much a freedom of speech issue as a free willy issue, but that hasn’t deterred Assange’s hacker backers from using it to their advantage – and, apparently – the same holds true for some world leaders, whose own pride may be stinging after reading how they have been portrayed in some of the Wikileaks cables.
Nobody can be sure what the next move, on any side, will be. So far there have been no online sites taken hostage with a demand for Assange’s release…but it doesn’t seem that farfetched.