Tamara Ford on Wed, 11 Nov 1998 21:53:21 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Criteria for assessing ECD tactics

On Wed, 11 Nov 1998, Stefan Wray wrote:
>(Would anyone like to contest this claim that Hacktivism is a valid form
>of Direct Action? If no one does, I'll assume there is a consensus on
>this point.)

I disagree with Wray's methods for "assuming consensus" and find his
message offensive on several other fronts, so I'll contest that claim.

For those unfamiliar, Wray is putting into practice theory that was laid
out in "Electronic Civil Disobedience" (1996 Autonomedia) (ECD participant
Dominguez was one of the authors). There has been little in the way of
analysis by other activists/theorists. That's one reason Rendall's open
letter regarding the Mumia action was so important. Other critiques have
emerged in erratic debates, or on closed lists and hopefully we'll see
some thoughtful analysis on this soon. In the meantime, I'll take a stab
at summarizing some of the major concerns regarding the potential dangers
of ECD campaigns. They include:

* sensationalizing issues; diverting media attention to the tactic and
away from the struggle: painting radical activists as destructive (we're
actually pretty constructive!)

* playing into fear-mongering generated by the military-industrial
complex who'd like to have more support for clamping down on internet
activism... (The Rand corporation *likes* ECD!)

* promoting a technological vanguard; priviledging a techno elite

* promoting an easy sense of participation that doesn't necessarily
expand one's analysis or involve a personal/political transformation

* wasting activists' limited time

* having potential for provacateurs

* having potential to be used to electronically keep track of dissenters

* having potential for violent repercussions. Most importantly, ECD
actions are almost always are done in the name of someone or some group
who has not been consulted, but who may bear negative consequences of such
actions. (This critique emerged from activists in Mexico who worried about
increased govt. surveillance and harrassment.)

While some well-meaning and concerned folks have responded to ECD with
enthusiasm, eager to voice their dissent, it's clear that there needs to
be some criteria for assessing the usefulness of such campaigns. My
response is not a categorical condemnation of ECD, but a call for
assessment of its use within a larger radical democratic process.  There
have been other calls-for example, against the FCC on behalf of pirate
radio-that bear looking into.

Hope this is useful,

Tamara Villarreal Ford
Accion Zapatista: http://www.utexas.edu/students/nave
ZapNet Collective: http://www.actlab.utexas.edu/~zapnet

Nota Bene: I'm reproducing the NY Times article below for two reasons.
First, because Wray cites this article as being proof of his
effectiveness, yet I think it does little besides playing into the
fear-mongering I mention above. Secondly, Wray and Dominguez have adopted
the slogan "the revolution will be digitized" and I'd like to clearly
distinguish their efforts from my work (with the ZapNet Collective) of the
same name. The ZapNet project does not use or promote "denial of service
attacks". On the contrary, our project is about creating new ways of
accessing and interacting with useful information.

> New York Times - October 31, 1998
> `Hacktivists' of All Persuasions Take Their Struggle to the Web
> Until they declared "Netwar" against the Mexican government, Ricardo
> Dominguez and Stefan Wray earned their activist credentials the
> old-fashioned way, attending rallies in support of the Zapatista rebels,
> handing out pamphlets, shouting political slogans.=20
> Now, the two New Yorkers organize "virtual sit-ins" and recruit computer
> programmers to attack the World Wide Web sites of any person or company
> they deem responsible for oppression. Their new rallying cry: "The
> revolution will be digitized."=20
> Wray, 37, and Dominguez, 39, are co-founders of the Electronic Disturbanc=
> Theater. It is one of several groups around the world that are beginning =
> experiment with computer hacking, so far largely nuisance attacks and the
> equivalent of electronic graffiti, as a means to a political end.=20
> "We see this as a form of electronic civil disobedience," Wray told a gro=
> of about 75 people who had gathered in New York's East Village for an
> "anti-Columbus Day" event in October. "We are transferring the
> social-movement tactics of trespass and blockade to the Internet."=20
> The notion is a departure for both radical activists and hackers, whose
> distinct, subversive subcultures have rarely intersected until recently. =
> some ways, the two psychologies are polar opposites.=20
> Hackers, while reliably anti-authoritarian, tend to limit their critique =
> the military-industrial complex to its imperfect computer security
> apparatus. Enamored of their image as the cowboys of the electronic
> frontier, most at least pay lip service to the hacker mantra, "informatio=
> wants to be free."=20
> But whatever capacity they might have to disrupt the social order has so
> far been largely restricted to pointless vandalism and pinching the
> occasional credit card number.=20
> Political activists, on the other hand, preoccupied as they are with the
> power structure, have typically paid little heed to the information
> infrastructure on which it rests. Motivated by the desire for social
> change, they generally see building communities of support and cooperatio=
> as essential.=20
> But the rapid growth of the Internet has transformed what was once a hack=
> playground into, among other things, a far-reaching political platform.
> What's more, the tricks invented by hackers have become easier for
> activists to learn and adopt because they are now widely published on
> how-to Web sites.=20
> As a result, radical groups are discovering what hackers have always know=
> Traditional social institutions are more vulnerable in cyberspace than th=
> are in the physical world. Likewise, some members of the famously
> sophomoric hacker underground are finding motivation in causes other than
> ego gratification.=20
> In recent months, groups as diverse as the Animal Liberation Front, a
> militant animal-rights group; Radio4All, which supports pirate
> broadcasting, and international teams of teen-agers with cyber pseudonyms
> like Milworm and causes like anti-imperialism have increasingly begun
> pumping political protest through the Internet's security holes.=20
> On Oct., 27, a day after China's human rights agency announced its new We=
> site, the official view of that nation's human rights record was replaced
> with an electronic trespasser's manifesto: "China's people have no rights
> at all, never mind human rights. How can the United States trade millions
> and millions of dollars with them and give them most-favored trade status
> when they know what is happening?"=20
> Earlier in October, computer intruders scrawled "Save Kashmir" over the
> opening screen of a Web site that the Indian government set up last summe=
> to provide information about the region, whose ownership is disputed by
> Pakistan and several separatist groups. The hacked site included
> photographs of Kashmiris allegedly killed by Indian forces, overlaid with
> the words "massacre" and "extra-judicial execution."=20
> In June, after the Indian government conducted nuclear tests, college
> students in Britain and the Netherlands claimed credit for placing the
> image of a mushroom cloud on the Web site of India's major nuclear weapon=
> research center.=20
> In September, Portuguese hackers modified the sites of 40 Indonesian
> servers to display the slogan "Free East Timor" in large black letters, a=
> they added hypertext links to Web sites describing Indonesian human right=
> abuses in the former Portuguese colony.=20
> No slouches in packaging and self-promotion, the burgeoning computer
> underground has adopted a catchy term for the trend: they call it
> "hacktivism."=20
> "Hacktivism is a way to be heard by millions," a group of three Mexican
> hackers known as X-Ploit wrote in an e-mail message to a reporter. "We wa=
> to speak out about what we and many, many people disagree with in this
> treasonous and corrupt government. If we protest both on line and off lin=
> we'll have better chances to see a change."=20
> The tactic is not limited to one end of the political spectrum. A group o=
> Serbian computer hackers this month claimed responsibility for crashing a
> Web site promoting the ethnic Albanian cause in the Serbian province of
> Kosovo. The Serbian newspaper Blic quoted one of the hackers as saying, "=
> shall continue to remove ethnic Albanian lies from the Internet."=20
> Wednesday, the group, called Black Hand, after a clandestine Serbian
> military organization at the turn of the century, attacked the site of th=
> Croatian state-owned newspaper Vjesnik. Croatian hackers counterattacked
> the next day, inserting messages like "Read Vjesnick and not Serbian book=
> on the Web site of the Serbian National Library, Vjesnik reported Friday.=
> Guerrilla attacks on Web sites may seem more of a headline-grabbing ploy
> than true information warfare. But security experts said the recent spate
> of digital vandalism underscores the risk to companies and governments th=
> increasingly rely on the Internet for commerce and communication.=20
> "What this demonstrates is the capacity of groups with political causes t=
> hack into systems," said Michael Vatis, chief of the National Information
> Protection Center, a new federal agency formed to protect the nation's
> crucial infrastructure. "I wouldn't characterize vandalizing Web sites as
> cyber-terrorism, but the only responsible assumption we can make is there=
> more going on that we don't know about."=20
> Established by Attorney General Janet Reno this year, the center is in pa=
> a response to the perception that "political forces which could not take =
> the United States in conventional military terms stand a better chance on
> an electronic battlefield," said Vatis.=20
> The potency of the sling-shot approach is not lost on would-be hacktivist=
> either. "If you have 10 people at a protest, they don't do much of
> anything," said a Toronto-based computer jockey who calls himself Oxblood
> Ruffian. "If you have 10 people on line, they could cripple a network."=
> Oxblood is a member of Cult of the Dead Cow, a hacker group that recently
> reserved the Web address www.hacktivism.org as an Internet distribution h=
> for tools to assist others in subversive digital activism. He said the
> group was planning to attack the Internet operations of U.S. companies
> doing business with China.=20
> But the effectiveness of such actions is unclear, prompting a debate over
> how best to implement the hacktivist brand of political protest.=20
> Under U.S. law, terrorism is defined as an act of violence for the purpos=
> of intimidating or coercing a government or a civilian population. And
> breaking into a computer system and altering data are felonies.=20
> For that reason, the members of the Electronic Disturbance Theater
> emphasize that the software they use to attack Web sites disrupts Interne=
> traffic but does not destroy data. In the tradition of civil disobedience
> protests, they encourage mass participation and use their real names.=20
> The group was forged in an online discussion among several American
> supporters of the Zapatistas, the first armed revolutionaries known to ha=
> solicited public sympathy for their struggle by publishing their
> communiques over the Internet.=20
> On Nov. 22, the group says, it plans to attack the Web site of the School
> for the Americas, a U.S. Army training center for foreign military
> personnel, some of whom have been accused of human rights abuses.=20
> Recent targets have included the sites of Mexican President Ernesto Zedil=
> and of the U.S. Defense Department.=20
> When online activists heed the call to "commence flooding!" they visit th=
> group's Web site and click on an icon that launches a program called
> FloodNet. The software points their Web browser to the target of the
> attack, where it requests the same page over and over again at a rate of
> about 10 times per minute.=20
> This tactic is a variation of what is known in Internet security-speak as=
> "denial of service attack." An unusually large volume of requests will
> overwhelm the computer that is serving up the target's Web pages. This ca=
> cause legitimate visitors to see error messages instead of the pages they
> are seeking, and it can even crash the server computer.=20
> "This isn't cyber-terrorism," insisted Carmin Karasic, a Quincy, Mass.,
> software engineer who designed the FloodNet program. "It's more like
> conceptual art."=20
> The U.S. Defense Department does not agree. Alerted to a planned FloodNet
> attack on its public site on Mexican Independence Day, the agency respond=
> by diverting the requests to a nonexistent Internet address, a spokesman =
> "If it wasn't illegal it was certainly immoral -- there are other
> constructive methods of electronic protest," the spokesman said.=20
> The victims of such attacks are not the only ones to criticize the digita=
> desperados. In their quest for support from a public already suspicious o=
> hackers and anxious about online safety, some political activists deride
> such methods as counterproductive.=20
> And hackers faithful to the ethic of electronic exploration for its own
> sake deride Web site intrusions as the work of "script kiddies," an epith=
> for people who break into systems by using schemes developed by others
> rather than by searching out new security holes of their own. Script
> kiddies have been responsible for a recent surge in attacks throughout th=
> Internet -- of which politically motivated hacks are a small fraction.=20
> But in e-mail and telephone interviews, several hackers promoting a
> political agenda -- all of whom refused to give their real names --
> insisted that their motives were pure.=20
> "We have hundreds of servers we could hack, and we don't," said Secretos,=
> Portuguese hacker in his early 20's whose group, the Kaotik Team, has tak=
> up the cause of East Timor independence. "By contrary, we even help them =
> fix their bugs. The main objective of our hacking pages is to transmit th=
> message. It is not, 'We are groovy, we have power."'=20
> John Vranesevitch, editor of Antionline, an Internet publication that
> tracks hacker activities, said the apparent political awakening among
> hackers reflects a generation's coming of age.=20
> "We're starting to see right now the first generation of people who have
> grown up on the Internet," said Vranesevitch, who at 19 counts himself
> among that group. "These hackers are entering the ages where people are
> most politically active. This is their outlet."=20
> And some are trying to make that outlet more accessible. A 26-year-old
> University of Toronto dropout calling himself Perl Bailey, after a comput=
> language popular among Web developers, said he had earned a living as a
> software developer and had dabbled in not entirely legal computer
> exploration for several years. Now, he is writing a tool to arm computer
> novices with basic hacktivist techniques.=20
> "After you reach a certain point, it feels like you are dressed up with
> nowhere to go," he said. "I want to make people doing questionable busine=
> dealings with countries that have no respect for human rights worry that
> someone who doesn't have a grade school education can sit down and go
> click-click and create havoc. To me that to me is very powerful."=20
>                                     ***
> ___________________________________________________________
> Willard Uncapher / paradox@actlab.utexas.edu / willard@well.com
> Advanced Communication Technology Lab, RTF, College of Communication
> Univ of Texas at Austin, 2016 Northridge Dr, Aus, Tx 78723; 512-926-8588=
> <http://www.actlab.utexas.edu/~paradox/>  Finger/or/Web Page for my=20
> PGP 2.6.2 or 6 Public keys. Get PGP 6/5.5 Freeware/Code at:=20
> <http://www.nai.com/products/security/pgpfreeware.asp> (US/Can) or=20
> <http://www.ch.pgpi.com/download/> (Intl.)

> [By the way, my message was almost as vague as saying PROTESTERS: PROTEST
> THESE SITES NOW! and then listing several buildings where people should
> hold protests.]
> To the hyperparanoid and staid left, at this point I must say you need to
> get with the program. I don't mean to be glib. But if you want to be
> effective players in this game you need to be brought up to speed, and
> moving at the rate of Web-speed. What we are doing should be more
> transparent to you. We are tweaking, manipulating, and conjuring. Some ca=
> this magic. Magic, mythology, and power. How to fuck with people's minds.
> How to make it seem like you are doing one thing when in fact you are
> really doing something else. These are useful skills to have.
> How do we invent an international cyberspacial liberation army? First by
> naming. How do we make power elites tremble? What do they care most about=
> Money. What do they worry most about? Loss of money. In what form is most
> money right now? Electronic and digital form. How do we make them worry
> about loss of digital capital? Inject simulated threat of fake
> internationial cyberspacial liberation army whose aim it is to attack
> digital capital infrastructure. Link to Y2K problem. Capitalize on
> millenium paranoia. Tweak. Manipulate. Simulate.
> This is what we are talking about. How to do alot, virtually, without doi=
> anything, really.
> If we had an army of a thousand ghosts, then, maybe then......
> Gathering, arising, inciting, dispersing, disappearing.....
> - Stefan Wray
> Electronic Disturbance Theater
> *************************************************************************=
> >Open Letter From Steve Rendall of FAIR=20
> >
> >Dear Stefan Wray:
> >
> >Mumia Abu Jamal is appealing to the federal courts for a new trial.  If =
> >is granted the appeal, Mumia will be on trial for his life.
> >
> >I am asking you to rescind your ill-considered call (pasted below)  for
> >activists to hack or otherwise disrupt the web sites of government
> >agencies and officials in Pennsylvania. Your call for the disruption of
> >the Philadelphia Inquirer's web site is even more disturbing and should =
> >rescinded as well.
> >
> >Since the state of Pennsylvania has denied Mumia's appeal, attempting to
> >annoy state officials there is like kicking a dead horse--no more than a=
> >expression of inarticulate rage. It is also a waste of activists' limite=
> >time. In addition, Philadelphia's death row has many other inmates
> >awaiting motions; their cases will not be helped by anti- death penalty
> >activists' efforts to aggravate the officials in whose hands their fates
> >rest.
> >
> >Your call to hack the Philadelphia Inquirer's website is downright
> >foolish. While the paper's performance on the Mumia case has been
> >miserable, one never knows when, or from where, a courageous reporter
> >might come forward to expose official hypocrisy. In his likely upcoming
> >federal trial, Mumia will need all the help he can get.
> >
> >FAIR has been documenting media bias in the Mumia case for years, and we
> >haven't written off the Inquirer (On other issues the Inquirer has been
> >one of best papers in the country.) On the contrary, we are approaching
> >the paper, and several other media outlets, with the documentary film
> >"MUMIA: A Case for Reasonable Doubt." We are sending out dozens of copie=
> >hoping to reach a few journalists who might have a look back at the stor=
> >A reporter whose work has been disrupted in the name of Mumia Abu Jamal
> >"supporters," will not be more receptive to our calls or the calls of
> >other folks working on this case.
> >
> >Finally, this is serious business. Careful consideration is required. =
> >Consultation with those who have been on the case for years is important
> >too. When I asked Mumia's lead attorney, Leonard Weinglass about your ca=
> >for hacking, he expressed puzzlement that anyone would want to target th=
> >Inquirer when Mumia's federal appeal is coming up, and he said "when a
> >mass movement was growing around Mumia's case in 1995, Mumia was very
> >concerned that people--out of emotion--might commit random acts of
> >violence or vandalism, I think this falls into that category."
> >
> >I hope you will reconsider, rescind this action and contact all your=20
> >correspondents as soon as possible.
> >
> >Steven Rendall Senior Analyst FAIR=20
> >
> >=A0
> >
> >--<fwd, from Stephan Wray>---------------------------
> >
> >
> >Supreme Court of Pennsylvania http://www.courts.state.pa.us/
> >
> >Govenor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge=20
> >http://www.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/Governor/overview.html
> >
> >Fraternal Order of the Police, Philadelphia http://www.fop5.org/
> >
> >Philadelphia Inquirer http://www.phillynews.com
> >

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