Hacktivists for information in bottom-up baskets

Maswood Alam Khan in Maryland, USA
ACTIVISTS claiming they have the right of access to any secret information have waged a war of hacking by what is technically called “Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks” to bring down the websites of companies which apparently are not in good terms with the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. Some nerds have started terming the activists as “Hacktivists”.

With global attention focused so much on WikiLeaks and people in great numbers vehemently supporting the website’s job of leaking secrets it seems the world is going to witness a different kind of warfare. Conventional wars, in the course of time, may be replaced by cyber wars — Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (IBM) may one day be replaced by DDoS.

While IBM was designed to be controlled only by the armed forces, DDoS, a more vicious weapon capable of crippling a country by destroying its information base, may become the citizens’ modern weaponry, ever ready in everybody’s hand, to be triggered by a computer having access to the Internet from the comfort of a chair, by anyone of any age, anytime round the clock, and from anywhere in the world.

In the Netherlands, a 16-year-old teenager was arrested by a high-tech crime unit in The Hague after he allegedly admitted to involvement in the targeting of the websites of two credit card companies, MasterCard and Visa. Now, people fear, an attack on PayPal, a very popular electronic exchange house that allows online payments and money transfers through the Internet, is imminent as PayPal has of late suspended the WikiLeaks account, which the organization had used to collect donations.

A tool, known as LOIC, enabling computers to join the coordinated attacks against websites perceived to be “anti-WikiLeaks” is now reported to have been downloaded more than 40,000 times. The retaliatory attacks by thousands of pro-WikiLeaks activists are growing in strength as hackers are adding the botnet and thousands of people are downloading the open-source attack tool, all of them knowing full well that using a tool like LOIC to attack a website is illegal. The notion that the Internet is a tool of democracy is being confounded by the hacking and leaking information by anybody who has a computer.

Why is such a desperation among people, especially among the young, to support the WikiLeaks? Are people frustrated with their governments? Are they fed up with fake democracies? Has the Internet become the most powerful platform where to make our voices heard, more prominently than even the voices of our representatives in parliament? Have we to brace ourselves for a new world where texts in the Facebook would perhaps replace ballots in a voting booth to decide on who should or should not govern us? We are perhaps on the doorstep of introducing a new mode of governance with a new set of rules where the word “Secrecy” would perhaps be forbidden.

Leaking secret information is not new in the modern world. Pentagon Papers on Vietnam War were also leaked in 1971 by one Daniel Ellsberg, a former U.S. Marine and military analyst. Ellsberg caused a sensation when he released the “Pentagon Papers” to The New York Times. The papers narrated the U.S. military’s account of secret activities during the Vietnam War and revealed the knowledge that the war would not likely be won and that continuing the war would lead to casualties many times more than was predicted by analysts. Further, the papers showed a deep cynicism by the military towards the public and a disregard for the loss of life and injury suffered by soldiers and civilians.

Release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 succeeded in substantially eroding public support for the Vietnam War and a succession of related events, including Watergate, eventually led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation.

Young people in America in the 1960s confronted a divisive war in Vietnam and had to bear enormous distress in their lives. Taking sour lessons from the history of wars and conflicts, today’s young people of the world seem determined not to undergo the same ordeal for no fault of their own; they are not ready to suffer for their governments’ short-sightedness and are eager to see what their governors are doing in the name of state secrecy and challenge. They ostensibly like to take the reign of governance in their own hands. They are demanding information in a basket with its bottom up; they want all the pieces of information falling continuously apart for people to glean from the Internet. They believe the kind of transparency WikiLeaks has made possible is good for democracy and the kind of secrecy the governments have traditionally been locking down in the name of security is bad for democracy.

With a strong base of information and a sturdy leverage to control them one can surmount any difficulty and earn anything under the sun: knowledge as well as wealth, good or bad. Time has arrived, I am guessing, when right of access to information is going to be more prominent than even the right of adult franchise. The world perhaps is going to witness a shift in the behaviour of democracy and the style of governance as well. Practice of democracy may have to be redefined with information technology making it possible for people to connect with each other in a way that could not be conceived when great constitutions of the states were framed and the rules of government machinery were made.

Information in the modern world does not need any visa to cross the border and as a result the concept of nation-state is becoming cosmetic. It is becoming ever more important for people to demand the right to be informed not only about the crimes their governments are perpetrating but also about any secret plans their governments are mulling to wage a war or to undertake a development project.

The “little people” across the world have been fed up with being treated as unworthy of the truth, of being misled, lied to and deceived by their self-serving governments. These little people have been bullied by their governments who hide behind the walls they have erected against their people and are protected by questionable laws and acts that keep them safe and immune.

Until now there was no voice against these frustrations, no way the “little people” could make a difference, without being ignored or stamped on. WikiLeaks seems to have emerged as a beacon for the underdogs, the silent masses. In the process millions are being emboldened to stand up and believe they have a newfound voice to demand transparency, to demand that the wrongs in the systems are set right and that the truth — not obfuscation and deception — prevail.

With information revolution gaining unprecedented momentum, there may be a new demand from the people of the world for easier access to information on technological knowhow, the knowledge base which is still dominated by the wealthy nations drawing a stark divide between the North and the South.

We are on the threshold of a new era of transformation of civilization with the omnipotent information technology overhauling our very life on this Earth. But we are yet to know whether the sky of our Earth is suddenly going to be dark in the event of an unwarranted Global Cyber War with hacktivists at large bombarding the banks of information around the world whenever the fancy takes them.

E-mail: Maswood@hotmail.com


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