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The rights and wrongs of hacktivism

The Economist discusses the right of protection of protest in a free society, and whether Distributed Denial of Service attacks deserve to be a form of protected protest.

The furtive, nameless nature of DDOS attacks disqualifies them from protection; their anonymous perpetrators look like cowardly hooligans, not heroes. This applies to those attacking WikiLeaks too—a point American politicians calling for reprisals against Julian Assange’s outfit should note. Posses and vigilantes, online and off, mete out rough justice, at best. That is no substitute for the real thing.

I would agree that DDoS falls further toward the vigilante hooliganism end of the scale than most forms of protest. The violence at the recent student protests in the U.K. was a double-edged sword of a similar nature: while it drew attention to the cause it also detracted from the overall message by portraying the protestors as an unthinking mob. DDoS attacks on PayPal, MasterCard et al. may allow more legitimate protest against these companies’ to be dismissed more easily and so ignored.

On the other hand, while it’s not too difficult to vote with your wallet by opting out of using PayPal, opting out of using both Visa and MasterCard is more troublesome. What are suitable forms of protest in this instance, that send a message without making one too much of a pariah (yes, I’m not going to stop using a credit card because of WikiLeaks)?

.:.