Friday night topic: The ethics of Anonymous and LulzSec

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Anonymous and LulzSec at this point—they've certainly made plenty of headlines. Well, in a joint announcement released the other day, the hacker groups have called for a boycott of PayPal over the company's decision to withhold donations from WikiLeaks. The statement refers to denial-of-service attacks against PayPal in December as a "digital sit-in," and it slams U.S. authorities for not seeing them as such.

In its coverage of the story, VentureBeat quoted an interesting response by white-hat hacker Sam Browne. Here's what Browne said:

A lot of people say that Anonymous is morally and legally justified to take down sites with denial of service. The difference between that and a sit-in is that in a sit-in you are physically present and you permit the police to arrest you. Here is where Anonymous reveals their complete lack of moral fiber. If you really want to protest the law and you want to break the law, Gandhi and Martin Luther King showed how to do this. You stand up in public with your real name and you let the police arrest you for doing something like blocking traffic and then this causes a public examination of why you did that and whether your cause is important.

This all raises some interesting questions. Are DDoS attacks the modern-day equivalent of sit-ins and peaceful protests, and should they be viewed as such by the law? Or are they simply vandalism carried out by people who, above all, strive to skirt accountability?


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