Censorship 2011: A Year That Began and Ended Anonymously

It’s something of a party game, this time of year, to look back and put together lists. Top ten this, bottom five that; trends that are in or out, predictions about the coming calendar year.Anonymous

Of course, it is largely that: a party game. Of all the moments of 2011, all the events on which tragedy turned or innovations sprang forward, there’s really no way to boil it down to a simple list. Was the death of Steve Jobs #5 or #4 in significance? Purely a matter of perspective. Which was the more important story, the attempt by Egypt to erase that nation from the Internet (unsuccessful) or efforts by Syria to keep it going, but use tricks to monitor and eavesdrop on social media (still ongoing)? That story hasn’t yet been finished. Has Facebook become everyone’s creepy friend? Depends who you ask.

We’re not even going to play the game, instead leaving it to others for some fun on the New Years. Rather, we have just one nominee in a new category: Top Story That Remains A Mystery.

That story starts and ends with one word: Anonymous.

We’ve written copious items about the antics – some silly, some serious – of the Anonymous hacker hive. The year began with Anonymous trying to shut down MasterCard and PayPal, for their decisions not to process donations to the group Wikileaks. It continued with Anonymous targeting various Arabic governments trying to repress the civic unrest on the streets and online, moved to attacks on the U.S. government for various reasons, then to corporate titans such as Sony, in support of the “Occupy Wall Street” movements around the world, and the bloody Mexican drug cartels. Just days ago, as the year was drawing to a close, Anonymous hacked the private intelligence group Stratfor – of which yours truly is a user – and published the personal details of all those registered with the group to receive its services.

This week the “AntiSec” branch of Anonymous published its handiwork. 50,277 credit card numbers were released, along with 86,594 e-mail addresses, 27,537 phone numbers and 44,188 encrypted passwords.  (If you’re wondering if you’re part of the hack, you can check here.)  Stratfor says it has addressed the problem, but of course, it really hasn’t. Now that all that data is out there, it can’t be erased.

For just about every significant news story this year, some part of Anonymous’ digital shadow hung large. We’ve even heard from Anonymous personally this year; after one of our stories, members of the group (presumably) hacked my personal email account, just to deliver a message. Dear Anonymous: I hear you.

But truth be told, I don’t fully understand you. Nor, I think, does anyone, really. For any given attack, there’s no sure way of knowing if Anonymous was behind it, or just some free-lancers looking for a little Internet mayhem. And then again, who’s to say what Anonymous even is? There’s no board, no director, no organizing structure. Just hundreds, or thousands, of web lurkers stirring up the digital pot. Anonymous is like fog: you can see it, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t grab it.

So as we look back at what’s happened, and squint hard to try and imagine what the future holds, our money is that Anonymous will be there throughout the new year, whatever the story.

All good things to all our readers in the new year.

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Activist, Unplugged from the Matrix. Action for Freedom!

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Posted in Censorship, Free Speech

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