Hackers Stage Massive Web Retaliation Against DOJ Copyright Crackdown
The hacking group Anonymous effectively shut down Web sites belonging to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Motion Picture Association of America, Universal Music Group, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the U.S. Copyright Office. The cyberattacks were launched Jan. 19, the day after Web sites Wikepedia, Reddit, Boing Boing, and others voluntarily went black to protest the House’s proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and Senate’s Protect IP Act, and the same day DOJ shut down the file-sharing site Megaupload and indicted seven owners and operators of the site.
“Popular file-sharing website megaupload.com gets shutdown by U.S Justice-FBI and charged its founder with violating piracy laws,” posted Anonymous on Twitter. “Four Megaupload members were also arrested…. We Anonymous are launching our largest attack ever on government and music industry sites. Lulz. The FBI didn't think they would get away with this did they? They should have expected us.”
A Federal Bureau of Investigation press release explained, “Today, law enforcement also executed more than 20 search warrants in the United States and eight countries, seized approximately $50 million in assets, and targeted sites where Megaupload has servers in Ashburn, Va., Washington, D.C., the Netherlands, and Canada. In addition, the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., ordered the seizure of 18 domain names associated with the alleged Mega conspiracy.”
‘A Terrifying Precedent’
The Federal Bureau of Investigation coordinated with police in New Zealand to arrest four men after U.S. authorities shut down Megaupload. Among the arrested men is Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom
According to the FBI, “As alleged in the indictment, the conspirators failed to terminate accounts of users with known copyright infringement, selectively complied with their obligations to remove copyrighted materials from their servers and deliberately misrepresented to copyright holders that they had removed infringing content.”
Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the DOJ actions are worrisome. “This kind of application of international criminal procedures to Internet policy issues sets a terrifying precedent,” he said. “If the United States can seize a Dutch citizen in New Zealand over a copyright claim, what is next? Maybe the Italian government will decide to seize Google executives on foreign soil over privacy claims? Or the Saudi Arabian government could seize Hollywood producers on foreign soil in order to charge them with morality violations for corrupting the Saudi youth?” Eckersley said.
‘Resisting Government Outreach’
S. T. Karnick, research director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes InfoTech & Telecom News, describes the Anonymous cyberattacks in retaliation for the DOJ’s actions against Megaupload as “a historically fascinating turn of events. There's a theory that one reason many of the nation’s founders wanted an explicit right to bear arms was to ensure that the people would have them as a means of resisting government overreach as the last bastion against tyranny,” he said. “Regardless of the merits of the hackers’ arguments, this appears to be a modern-day, high-tech manifestation of that principle.”
Eckersley added that the cyber-attacks are “viewed by some people as destructive, while others argue that it's just the digital equivalent of a crowd of protesters showing up and by their sheer numbers, blocking entrances to a government building. In any case, it’s probably not the most useful thing for Anonymous to be doing in the long run. They aren’t going to beat the U.S. government by provoking it,” he said.
“If hacker groups want to really stop out-of-control copyright laws they should be working to build new and better ways to get independent creators paid in a free market of free content,” Eckersley added. “Figure out new models for our creative economy, and make them work. DHS agents with guns and DNS seizures are not the way to get our artists paid – and it's time to prove it.”
Bruce Edward Walker (email@example.com) is managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News.
“Justice Department Charges Leaders of Megaupload with Widespread Online Copyright Infringement,” U.S. Department of Justice, January 19, 2012: http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/justice-department-charges-leaders-of-megaupload-with-widespread-online-copyright-infringement