On Friday, this site was the target of a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) by a group operating under the umbrella of Anonymous. I first became aware of the attack through a tweet, and a look at my server logs confirmed it.
The attack was apparently a part of an operation to protest the Protect IP Act, a bill that moved to the Senate floor last week after unanimous approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and supported by 43 state Attorneys General and nearly 200 companies, trade associations, and labor unions — unions that include over 400,000 members in the craft and creative fields. The main target appears to have been the US Chamber of Commerce, and other tweets indicate that the Independent Film and Television Alliance and the Copyright Alliance had also been hit.
Had it not been for the tweet, I would probably never noticed my site had been hit by a DDoS. There was no permanent damage, it only lasted for a few minutes, and it didn’t seem to prevent anyone from accessing the site. But the attack does highlight the sheer hypocrisy of those opposed to the bill.
The opposition is based in part on the idea that the Protect IP Act will usher in a new era of internet censorship with no recourse for those affected. In reality, the bill addresses conduct, not speech. Limited, narrow legal remedies are available against sites dedicated to copyright infringement — sites that have no other purpose but to copy, distribute, and stream other’s expression. The remedies are designed not to suppress speech, but to reduce the ability to profit off this type of infringement.
The censorship predicted by opponents of the bill is purely hypothetical and unsupported by the actual text of the legislation. And in order to voice their opposition, opponents are engaging in actual censorship — arbitrary action designed specifically to suppress the opinions of those who support the bill solely based on the message they are conveying. They have met the enemy, and the enemy is them.
That’s all I’ve done — expressed my opinion on pending legislation. I’m merely an individual blogger. I don’t get paid by anyone to write this blog. I do it only to share my thoughts with anyone willing to read them, like millions of others around the world who blog.
Some may claim that engaging in DDoS attacks is a form of civil disobedience. But where’s the civil disobedience in trying to silence a private individual?
Others may claim that the specter of government censorship justifies taking away another’s right to speak — that freedom of speech can only be infringed by the state. Not true. It is a bedrock principle of our society that one may not infringe on another’s liberty. It has also been established since the Enlightenment era that government exists primarily to enforce this principle. The rule of law protects against the rule of man, or “might makes right.” Any deprivation of liberty is only legitimate when it occurs within the due process of law.1
To coerce someone into silence because of disagreement over their message is repugnant to civil democratic society. To do so under the guise of protecting free speech is pure cant.
Complicit in this coercion are those sites that breathlessly report on every minute action by Anonymous, providing publicity and legitimacy to the group. Perhaps they have not been more vocal in condemning the actions of Anonymous because thus far the writers agree with the ideology of the members — embracing an Orwellian notion that freedom of speech means “you’re free to agree with me as much as you want.” But the DDoS tactics of Anonymous are easily adoptable by any ideological movement; one wonders how happily these sites will publicize the censorship of individuals by people they disagree with.
One would think one of the many public interest groups dedicated to protecting the freedom to speak one’s mind online would decry any attempt to coerce someone into silence, but not so with Anonymous. To its credit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the “first line of defense” against such attacks, has publicly stated that it “doesn’t condone cyber-vigilantism.” However, co-founder and current board member of the EFF John Perry Barlow has publicly voiced his support for the efforts of Anonymous.2 They, in return, embrace many of the ideas he has expressed in his famous essay, “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.”3
This is the essay that proclaims, without a hint of irony, “We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”
It’s unfortunate that critics of copyright law and efforts to better protect creators cast aside the principles they purport to uphold and resort to such tactics. There’s an old saying among lawyers, “When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither is on you side, pound the table.” Attempts to censor individual bloggers like me are ultimately just table-pounding. Despite this, I’ll continue to do my best to reasonably present the facts and the law so that my readers are free to make up their own minds.
- See, for example, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government: “The liberty of man in society is to be under no legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth, nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what the legislative shall enact according to the trust put in it. Freedom, then, is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us, O.A. 55, ‘A liberty for everyone to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws,’ but freedom of man under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it. A liberty to follow my own will in all things where the rule prescribes not, not to be the subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man, as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of nature.” [↩]
- http://twitter.com/#!/JPBarlow/statuses/12835190019727360, http://twitter.com/#!/JPBarlow/status/12897738307928064. [↩]
- See http://anonnews.org/?a=item&i=661&p=press: “Anonymous has no leader and no government (per John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace).” [↩]