Musings —12.10.2010 11:47 AM—
The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has resulted in what some had foretold – a massive, global web-based attack on the web presence of corporations and governments. Here, in turn, is some of the newspaper reaction this morning:
“But the cyber war against these companies, in retaliation for cutting off WikiLeaks, takes the anti-social behaviour of these “hactivists” to another level. It also dramatically underscores how vulnerable the Internet is to attack by ruthless and unscrupulous criminals, and how the world urgently needs an enforceable cyber-security protocol. As retired Canadian diplomat Paul Meyer notes in the current issue of Policy Options, the UN has been talking about it for a decade without getting it done.”
“Information security experts warn, however, that Canadian corporations and several government departments are not properly ensuring sensitive data aren’t stolen or lost. This is especially problematic because attacks by hackers are on the increase and are becoming more sophisticated. The experts warn that countries and terrorist organizations are increasingly relying on hacker techniques to wage war on their enemies.“
“The New York Times, for example, was the Julian Assange of the Vietnam War era. When the matter came before the U.S. Supreme Court, here’s what the judges concluded: “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” The man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, had this to say about the WikiLeaks affair: “Powerful forces in America who thrive on secrecy are trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.”
And that’s just in Canadian newspapers. All around the globe, today, pundits are reacting with astonishment to the notion that an anarchic, anonymous coalition of computer-savvy people – kids, most of them – could actually bring big corporations and big governments to their proverbial knees for what has been done to one of their own, Julian Assange.
They shouldn’t be surprised.
That last quoted passage, above, is by my friend and Sun colleague Michael Harris, who always gets it. As Michael says, you’re way too late, governments and corporations. You can’t control the Internet, as much as you would now desperately like to. It is now, truly, a World Wide Web, and the people who generate most of its content are real people. And they’re real people who enjoy, quite frankly, seeing powerful interests being taught a painful lesson.
It all mirrors what is taking place in democracy everywhere – and we’ve certainly seen it Canada, in 2010, and particularly in municipal races in places like Toronto and Calgary. There is a surging anti-establishment mood gripping lots and lots of people. It isn’t ideological, and it isn’t partisan: it’s an equal-opportunity anger movement, and it’s preoccupied with smacking around whomever happens to be wielding power.
You see it whenever a Barefoot Bandit, or his equivalent, is at work: people cheer for him, because they secretly (and not-so-secretly) love to see powerful forces get embarrassed by someone who isn’t very powerful at all. People love the underdog. In 2010, they love underdogs a lot.
Getting big companies like PayPal and Amazon and Visa to hit WikiLeaks in the pocketbook is as idiotic as it is predictable. So, too, threatening Assange with untold prosecutions on trumped-up charges – and even now prosecuting him in a case that looks, to many of us, highly coincidental and therefore suspect. To me, what I see in the papers this morning are the institutions that people truly hate these days – banks, and huge corporations, and bellicose governments – doing what they always do: reacting stupidly, corporately, and way too late. They should all send a bunch of “secret” cables to each other about their plans. They do that a lot, apparently.
I tried to think of a metaphor that fits, to make my point. I settled on a fight between a big, slow, dumb dinosaur – being besieged by an army of fast, smart, tiny mammals with really sharp teeth.
And we all know what happened to those big, slow and dumb dinosaurs, don’t we?