If you’re anonymous you’re a terrorist
United States targets anonymous users after big banks attacked
“We, the free peoples of the world, have crippled the hegemon’s ability to exact punitive interest penalties from their lenders and depositors. We have reset the financial system. We have done this for everyone without expectation of thanks or reward,” says a statement from Cypher, the self-proclaimed leader of OccupyWorld.
The organization, an offshoot of the Anonymous and LulSec hacker movements, has claimed responsibility for the September 11 attack which destroyed the software and databases of JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo – with a combined asset base of US$ 7.8 trillion.
“This is what we’re fighting,” says Senator Myers Briggman whose End Anonymity Online bill is being debated before the US Senate today. “If you’re anonymous online you’re either a pedophile or a terrorist. And you don’t want to be either one of those.”
There are few countries where anonymity online is now permissible. China was first, demanding compulsory identity checks for any online access back in 2012. The countries which followed were the usual pariahs: Pakistan in 2013; Venezuela, Iran, Zimbabwe, Russia and Sri Lanka in 2014.
But then the unthinkable happened and Germany and France passed ‘real name’ legislation in 2015. Since then more than 48 countries have passed legislation calling for real names online.
Would such legislation have protected Americans from the attack by OccupyWorld three days ago? “I doubt it very much,” says Amanda Siegfried of the Electronic Freedom Foundation. “Hackers are using powerful anonymity software to act online.”
“They steal identities from poorly protected accounts when they need to interact with formal systems. All that is happening is that those who most need the freedom of anonymity are losing it, while criminals are being given all the space they need to act as they will.”
Whether it would make a difference or not is immaterial. In the wake of OccupyWorld’s attack, a poll by Thomson Reuters yesterday shows that Senator Briggman’s bill will be passed with universal support.
Say goodbye to anonymous free speech in the United States.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Pakistan will become the latest country to introduce a national firewall to control its citizens’ access to the Internet when it awards a tender late in 2012. The erosion of Internet anonymity isn’t limited only to the world’s police states. Google and Facebook – the two most popular Internet services – both have real name policies for access to their social media services.
There are numerous drivers for this but the primary one is the increasing belief that anonymity encourages anti-social behavior. The definition of what constitutes ‘anti-social’ is not well-defined and certainly not consistent.
April 2016: Canada introduces ‘real name’ legislation
It has been a bad few years for civil liberties campaigners. “I don’t know whether to cry or scream,” says a frustrated Green Party leader, Elizabeth May. “Apparently if you care about civil liberties in this country you obviously side with child pornographers, murderers.”
Canada passed legislation allowing the police to demand the real names and IP addresses of anonymous online users from ISPs without a warrant back in 2012.
“This is merely in line with our previous approach to managing online crime,” says Vic Toews, Canada’s Public Safety Minister. “As technology evolves, many criminal activities, such as the distribution of child pornography, become much easier. We are proposing measures to bring our laws into the 21st century and provide police with the lawful tools we need.”
Canada isn’t even the first supposedly liberal and democratic country to enforce real name legislation. That dubious distinction goes to Germany and France. In the wake of violent, racist attacks on minority immigrants, French and German legislators declared that they needed tools to cope with anonymous organizers of the violence.
The reasons may vary but it is getting more difficult for ordinary people to legitimately claim they should be permitted to remain anonymous.
June 2019: Tor anonymous service closed down
In March 2011, the Electronic Freedom Foundation awarded The Tor Project their 2010 Award for Projects of Social Benefit. “Using free software, Tor has enabled roughly 36 million people around the world to experience freedom of access and expression on the Internet while keeping them in control of their privacy and anonymity. Its network has proved pivotal in dissident movements in both Iran and more recently Egypt.”
It is also used by members of the Anonymous hacker network to coordinate their Denial Of Service attacks.
Up until 2018, though, their service appeared to be protected by statute in their home base of the US. That is until the Recording Industry Association of America claimed that The Tor Network directly assisted in losing the music recording industry some US$ 122 billion a year.
“Online piracy is worth fighting to protect the American way of life,” says Doug Hanson, spokesman for the RIAA.
Using the recently-passed Prevent Online Piracy Act (POPA), the RIAA sued Tor. With debts rapidly piling up, Tor had no choice.
“We have created a safe space for millions of people to protest against their unrepresentative and oppressive governments. Unfortunately, the ‘land of the free’ does not agree that the small cost of also permitting a tiny proportion of criminals the same freedom is not worth the greater freedom of civil liberties,” says Paul Syverson, one of the founders of Tor. “Today it is my sad task to shut down The Tor Network. For now there is no safe space on the Internet.”
Almost immediately, Senator Myers Briggman begins crafting his End Anonymity Online act and lobbying Congress and the Senate to pass it.
September 2021: OccupyWorld attacks Wall Street
OccupyWorld, an offshoot of the Anonymous and LulSec hacker movements, claims responsibility for the attack which destroyed the software and databases of JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo with a combined asset base of US$ 7.8 trillion.
“We, the free peoples of the world, have crippled the hegemon’s ability to exact punitive interest penalties from their lenders and depositors. We have reset the financial system. We have done this for everyone without expectation of thanks or reward,” says a statement from Cypher, the self-proclaimed leader of the attack on the OccupyWorld blog.
On 11 September 2021 – exactly 20 years since the Al Qaeda attacks of 2001 – the four largest American deposit-taking banks experience a critical failure of their main banking software. When they attempt to restore their systems from their off-site backups they discover that these, too, have been compromised.
It wasn’t just loans which were lost. Depositor’s accounts, credit cards, pensions and savings are all gone.
“We’re honoring credit cards at the moment since we were able to restore account-holders details by working with Visa, MasterCard and the other credit companies, but we’re still struggling to restore the balance of information,” says an exhausted looking Chris Matthews, spokesman for Bank of America.
A special team of engineers has been set up to work through the electronic data interchange transactions logs at all the other banks. “We should be able to restore almost everything,” says Jenny Abernathy, lead software engineer on the project, “but it’s going to take time.”
Unfortunately, some 73 million Americans have been affected, their pensions unpaid, insurance uncertain and savings lost.
In three days the US Senate will vote on Myers Briggman’s End Anonymity Online Act.
Links to related stories
- Real-Name Registration Threatens the Lively World of China's Microblogs - Wired, 15 March 2012
- Nobody Uses Their Real Name Online, and Other Outdated Notions - Gizmodo, 25 August 2011
- South Korea's "real names" debacle and the virtues of online anonymity - Ars Technica, 15 August 2011
- German minister urges end to web anonymity after Norway attacks - DW.DE, 8 August 2011
- MindBullet: GLOBAL COMMERCE OCCUPIED (Dateline: 20 October 2012, Published: 27 October 2011)
Warning: Hazardous thinking at work
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