A decade-plus of anthropological fieldwork among hackers and like-minded geeks has led me to the firm conviction that these people are building one of the most vibrant civil liberties movements we’ve ever seen. It is a culture committed to freeing information, insisting on privacy, and fighting censorship, which in turn propels wide-ranging political activity. In the last year alone, hackers have been behind some of the most powerful political currents out there. ---
Take, for instance, the reaction to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a far-reaching copyright bill meant to curtail piracy online. SOPA was unraveled before being codified into law due to a massive and elaborate outpouring of dissent driven by the hacker movement.
The linchpin was a “Blackout Day”—a Web-based protest of unprecedented scale. To voice their opposition to the bill, on January 17, 2012, nonprofits, some big Web companies, public interest groups, and thousands of individuals momentarily removed their websites from the Internet and thousands of other citizens called or e-mailed their representatives. Journalists eventually wrote a torrent of articles. Less than a week later, in response to these stunning events, SOPA and PIPA, its counterpart in the Senate, were tabled (see “SOPA Battle Won, but War Continues”). ----
In fact, just the next day, on January 18, 2012, federal authorities orchestrated the takedown of the popular file-sharing site MegaUpload. The company’s gregarious and controversial founder Kim Dotcom was also arrested in a dramatic early morning raid in New Zealand. The removal of this popular website was received ominously by Anonymous activists: it seemed to confirm that if bills like SOPA become law, censorship would become a far more common fixture on the Internet. Even though no court had yet found Kim Dotcom guilty of piracy, his property was still confiscated and his website knocked off the Internet.
As soon as the news broke, Anonymous coordinated its largest distributed denial of service campaign to date. It took down a slew of websites, including the homepage of Universal Music, the FBI, the U.S. Copyright Office, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Motion Picture Association of America.
Just a few weeks later, in Europe, as massive online and offline demonstrations, notably in Denmark and Poland, were unfolding to protest ACTA, another international copyright agreement, Anonymous again appeared (see “Europeans Protest Anti-Piracy Treaty”). After the Polish government agreed to ratify ACTA, Anonymous took down a slew of government websites and publicized street protests sweeping Krakow. Soon after, the left-leaning Polish Party, Palikot’s Movement Party, adopted the signature Anonymous symbol, the Guy Fawkes masks, wearing them during a parliamentary session to protest ACTA. Amidst this and many other outcries, the European Union scrapped this proposed law in July 2012.