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Internet Europe: Hacktivism, Cyberterrorism Or Online Democracy?

Have you ever felt you'd like to protest but you are too old, to busy and too tired to join a street rally?

19 March 2001, 5 pm GMT

by Paola Di Maio (courtesy of Content Wire)

Hacktivism has been recently defined by a newspaper article in the Guardian as "a highly politicised underground movement using direct action in cyberspace to attack globalisation and corporate domination of the internet"

Targets, mainly multinational corporations and political organizations, are hit with a range of electronic weapons, from viruses to email bombs, which crash websites by bombarding them with thousands of protest messages, said an article.

Last week an organisation called netstrike.it encouraged online surfers to log on a target address to use up all its bandwidth and clog the online access to the site.

The action was part of a series of activities against the Global Summit held in Naples last Saturday, which ended up in a violent riot with the authorities and produced two hundred casualties.

"We think that it's right and necessary to enter in the contents of the Global Forum about e-government: for this reason we want to oppose the actual function of technologies, used to grow speculations and social control, with an antagonist use of the new technologies. So we are organising a netstrike against the trading on-line for the first day of the Global Forum, and our goal is to block, also if only partially, the highways of globalisation, the main points of the global economy." said the manifesto that was circulated online, followed by the instructions on how to join the protest.

"Netstrike, or cyber-rally, is the equivalent of an online demonstration where people take up the streets. Here, we take up the bandwidth of the digital highway in just the same way. We do this to demonstrate dissent and to protest against a particular company or activity, and the disruption goes on as long as long as the demonstration goes on" explains Tommaso Tozzi, intellectual and media lecturer in Florence.

Paul Mobbs , a British hacktivist from a group called 'electrohippies collective' co-hosted a meeting recently at the ICA in London to discuss how hactivism "It removes the advantages that larger or mainstream groups possess, for example money, influence and preferential access to media. No longer are small minorities restricted by lack of access. On the internet all access is roughly equal."

"I just want to have the open debate" commented Mobbs during an online discussion "I think people in the UK are now waking up to this in retrospect. Unless we have the open debate so the public can understand the issues involved in hacktivism, then all hackers will be subjected to the same bullshit we have had in the UK over the past year. The only reason Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, was able to get the Terrorism and RIP legislation through Parliament was because nobody knew about the issues. Consequently they just believed the bullshit he peddled them about the risks to the public from people bent on 'disrupting electronic networks'. Now suddenly we can be classed as terrorists for planning online protest action" continued Mobbs.

"Hacktivists have provided a new political ethic for the hacking activity of the past 'that tended to be more about narcissistic power games than any real protest against the system," says Paul Taylor, a sociology lecturer at Salford university. "Hacktivism can be seen as the latest manifestation of a long history of opposition to capitalism and its disorienting effects."

In Britain the Terrorism Act last month was updated to include Cyberterrorism offences: anyone who tries to "seriously disrupt an electronic system" with the intention of threatening or influencing the government or the public, and does it to advance a "political, religious or ideological cause", can be classed as a terrorist.

But the origins and motives of hacking are still controversial.

Not only hackers - who spot vulnerabilities and fix them - must be distinguished from crackers - who spot vulnerabilities to exploit them, but their degree of political commitment can vary a lot.

"Some hackers are apolitical, stereotypical computer nerds. But most aren't, though they don't all want to engage in politics through computer attacks, cracking, etc" reminds Amy Alexander of plagiarist.org

So while governments discuss how to possibly adopt e-government policies, and how to run cybergovernments with real cyberelections, net hacktivists are getting organized and show people how to protest online, if that's what they want to do.