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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Geeks are the New Guardians of Our Civil Liberties

Geeks are the New Guardians of Our Civil Liberties | MIT Technology Review: " . . . . So powerful was Anonymous in these events that a few weeks after they passed, I received a call from a venture capitalist involved with organizing the SOPA protests. He wanted to learn more about how Anonymous operated and whether its participants could be harnessed a little more directly. The beauty and frustration of Anonymous lies in an unruly and unpredictable spontaneity—as they like to boast, “We are not your personal army.” But his intuition—that they were an important part of the mix—was correct. One key ingredient to the success of Anonymous lies in its participatory nature, especially when compared to spheres of hacker action where technical skill is a prerequisite for participation (and often respect). Skilled hackers are indeed vital to Anonymous’s networks—they set up communication infrastructure and grab most of the headlines—for instance, when they hack into servers to search for information on government or corporate corruption. Hacking, however, still remains one tool of many (and some Anonymous subgroups oppose hacking and defacing). There is other work to be done: stirring press releases to write, propaganda posters to design, and videos to edit. Geeks and hackers may have different skills sets, but they are often traveling companions online, ingesting similar news, following similar geeky cultural currents, and defending Internet freedom, although using distinct methods and styles of organizing. The depth, extent, and especially diversity of this geek political movement was made evident to me just recently, not at an official political event but at a memorial service that doubled as an informal political rally. Over a thousand people gathered in New York City’s regal Cooper Union Hall to honor Aaron Swartz, a hacker and self-proclaimed activist who had recently taken his own life, some say due to government overreach in his federal case concerning the legality of downloading millions of academic articles from MIT’s library website (see “Why Aaron Swartz’s Ideas Matter”). . . ."

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