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Anonymous and Wikileaks: friend or foe of liberty and property?

A vast amount of data at US-based intelligence and research organisation, Stratfor, has been stolen by the group styling itself “Anonymous”. As reported today, WikiLeaks has, or is in the process of, publishing millions of emails written by persons at that organisation over a 7-year period.

And Stratfor’s CEO, George Friedman, has resigned. Er, no he hasn’t – it was a fake story, apparently. Curiouser and curiouser.

“I like hearing when companies pay the price for lax security, but in the case of Stratfor, proving that someone’s security is weak by spilling everyone’s details is like peeing your pants to prove your parents aren’t supervising you. It might feel good and warm at first, but you ultimately end up being the loser.”

So writes a person called Michael Lee. His article focuses on Anonymous’ actions. He continues:

“Stratfor is one of the latest companies allegedly targeted by Anonymous. The breach, which began to make headlines on Christmas day in the US, resulted in the loss of 200GB worth of data and ultimately the publication of its customers’ emails, credit card numbers, and corresponding verification numbers and addresses.”

And this:

“The hackers wanted to release the credit card details because they belonged to “rich and powerful oppressors”. But even the author behind the release stated that of the 860,000, just 50,000 email accounts were from military or government domains. How many of those 50,000 were even responsible for oppressing anyone? And even if all 50,000 were, was it really worth ruining the privacy of 810,000 other likely innocent bystanders?”

Publishing the details of housands of credit card details, addresses and other important information has nothing to do with holding the rich and powerful to account. And in any event, being rich is not, in and of itself, a legitimate reason for a bunch of hackers to claim that wholesale theft of data is somehow in the “public interest”.

Now WikiLeaks, run by Julian Assange, is involved. As some regulars might know, unlike some other Samizdata contributors, I consider WikiLeaks, and those who aid and abet its publication of such private data, to be near-criminal in its recklessness. It has put journalists’ sources in jeopardy, or it least is careless about them in some cases, which is hardly grounds for celebration by anyone who takes freedom of expression seriously. This story from Africa is particularly troubling.

This item by the BBC shows how WikiLeaks does not give a damn about the damage it does so long as it can claim to be striking a blow against organisations it dislikes:

“Here we have a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the US government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations and journalists,” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told Reuters news agency. “What is of grave concern is that the targets of this scrutiny are, among others, activist organisations fighting for a just cause.”

Well it may be that the final sentence has some basis in truth, but as Assange surely knows, a lot of journalists get sources inside large organisations for their stories, be they government civil servants or company types. An investigative journalist looking into corporate or government activities could not operate without such contacts, even in a world where Freedom of Information legislation operates. And there is a real risk that serious sources will be blown and their careers ruined by indiscriminate publication of such vast amounts of information. The key word here is “indiscriminate” – there is no sign of any attempt to filter, let alone consider how some of this data could fall into the wrong hands and cause harm to innocents.

In case anyone brings up the matter, the leak of such a vast number of emails, and hacking of data about hundreds of thousands of credit card details, is hardly the same as say, the discovery of emails at the University of East Anglia that confirmed suspicions that AGW alarmists were playing fast and loose with the evidence. In that case, a Freedom of Information Act request was used to find out about the emails. In other words, a proper process was insisted upon. And I am not aware that global warming skeptics have tried to hack Al Gore’s bank account details.

And now it appears, in an update, that some pranksters are trying to claim that a person has resigned from his job when he hasn’t. This is all getting very juvenile.

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11 comments to Anonymous and Wikileaks: friend or foe of liberty and property?

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    There’s also the harm that WikiLeaks did in Belarus, helping the secret police suppress dissidents.

  • Jury’s still out on this lot. Interesting about the credit cards – just what is it with these people?

  • PeterT

    “Here we have a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the US government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations and journalists,”

    When I first read this, before I finished the paragraph, I thought it was about Wikileaks!

    Whatever one may think of Wikileaks in particular, there are certainly cases where the leaking of government secrets is both in the public interest and meets a ‘do no harm to private individuals in their capacity as private individuals (and not as government employees)’ criteria. A freedom of information act could potentially accomplish this, but it would also be subject to the caprice of government, in which case a Wikileaks may be useful.

  • Kevin B

    This one’s getting murkier by the minute. It’s already beginning to resemble Fakegate in that Stratfor are denying that Freidman resigned and saying that many of the e-mails published by Wikileaks are faked. Hmmm.

    Also:

    “Here we have a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the US government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations and journalists,” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told Reuters news agency. “What is of grave concern is that the targets of this scrutiny are, among others, activist organisations fighting for a just cause.”

    And of course one man’s ‘just cause’ is another man’s anti-social movement. For instance OWS and the Tea Party. I’m not sure I trust Assange as the arbiter.

  • Laird

    I don’t trust Assange as the arbiter, either, but then again I trust our government and Stratfor even less. When in doubt I opt for disclosure and transparency.

  • Sigivald

    Anonymous are terrorists. Literally.

    Sure, they’re not the kind that blow things up (well, yet, at least).

    But “do what we demand or we’ll use coercion to make you”, where the coercion is a sort that is intended to make others terrified of Anonymous’ power?

    Terrorism.

    (And the worst part is, for all their claims to be fighting for a “free internet” and all the rest, eventually I expect the biggest threat to internet freedom to be reactions to their abuses; all it’ll take is Anonymous making one drastically unpopular move and they’ll get popular support behind the opposition.

    If we ever see widespread and supported control of the internet in the West it’ll be because of jackhats like Anonymous.)

  • pst314

    “The hackers wanted to release the credit card details because they belonged to ‘rich and powerful oppressors’…”

    You can test that assertion: What if somebody hacked the personal correspondence and financial records of, say, Castro-loving Sean Penn? We all know the answer: Castro is never to be counted as an oppressor. The worst that is permitted is to say that he is a wee bit over-zealous in his deep love for the people.

  • JohnB

    . . If we ever see widespread and supported control of the internet in the West it’ll be because of jackhats like Anonymous.)

    You are correct, Sigivald.

    In fact I wouldn’t put that realisation past the intellectual capabilities of those who do want to control the internet.

  • Paul Marks

    “Hacking” (and so on) is evil if News International people do it – but noble if done by “Anonymous” or “Wikileaks”.

    This is the mantra of the establishment (the education system, the BBC, even the Church of England) – but why do they keep to this line?

    After all the Guadian “hacks” – yet far from being attacked for this, it has led the charge (for many years now) against “hacking” long ago by News International people. And this is not considered odd in any way.

    Why not?

    Because of the INTENTIONS of the hackers (and so on).

    News International people have grubby commercial intentions – to sell more newspapers.

    Whereas left hackers have noble intentions – to make the world a better place.

    Make it a “better place” by totalitarian collectivism, Hell on Earth.

    The truth is a brutal as that.

    “But they are not all Marxists Paul”.

    They do not have to be.

    Some are Black flaggers (communal “anarchists”) rather than Red flaggers – and some are NEITHER.

    Just people who are sympathetic to these “young, noble idealists” (without bothering to really investigate what the “ideal” is).

    Shouts of “freedom” and “liberty” and an “end to slavery and oppression” are meaningless (the forces of evil have often shouted these things and with total sincerity – see the film “The Baden-Meinhof Complex”).

    What matters in polititcal philosophy and political practice – is the position someone takes on the insitution of private property.

    In war both sides violate property and kill the innocent – that is the nature of war.

    But that does not mean that the two sides are the same.

    One side is trying (in a very imperfect way) to defend what is left of property rights (of civil society – the only real foundation of liberty) and the other is trying to destroy it, destroy civil society utterly.

    Make your choice.

    For in this war their can be neutrality.

    And it is a “war to the knife”.

  • Alsadius

    Man, I thought it was loathsome enough when it was just some emails getting leaked. But a million credit card numbers? Really? That is literally criminal, and of the sort that plays into the hands of fraudsters and spammers. Well done, asshats.

  • Mendicant

    Stratfor is to blame for the loss of credit card data. They were lazy and messed up. Boo-hoo.

    What’s clear from the revealed data is the paranoia and fascist tendencies of the likes of Dirty Dow (spying on The Yes Men shows a contempt for free speech and lack of humour), and as we see from the sickening spying on Bhopal victims, totally devoid of any morality.

    Given Stratfor’s contempt for Bhopal victims’ privacy, I would say this is a wonderful case of just desserts. Stratfor dishes it out, they should learn how to take it and stop whining like schoolgirls.

    As for the “army of CIA cronies”, if this is true, then Anonymous have exposed treason.