Eyes and ears will be on US President Barack Obama Tuesday evening as he presents the State of the Union address from Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Hacktivists aligned with the Anonymous movement have other plans, however.
A call to arms has been issued by Anonymous, the shadowy underground collective of hackers and activists, and the group says they hope to disrupt select online broadcasts of the annual address in protest of President Obama and his administration’s assaults on the civil liberties and constitutional rights of Americans, as well as the world’s Internet.
“Operation SOTU,” or “OpSOTU,” is latest mission from Anonymous, and members involved in the initiative say it will serve as a decisive factor in the “battle royale for the future of the Internet.”
In a statement drafted by members of Anonymous and circulated on the Web early Tuesday, the group recalls a series of recent victories for Internet activists who waged battles and won against proposed legislation that would have drastically changed the modern landscape of computer and technology law.
“Last year we faced our greatest threat from lawmakers. We faced down SOPA, PIPA, CISPA and ACTA,” the message begins. “But that victory did not come easily. Nor did it come without a price.”
While the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act were killed in Congress before they could come to fruition, opponents of those bills argue that Washington’s assault on computer users has only escalated in the year since. In January, 26-year-old anti-SOPA advocate Aaron Swartz was found dead of an apparent suicide in the midst of a heated legal battle with the US Justice Department over his allegedly unauthorized downloading of academic and journal files from the website JSTOR. Other young technologists, including those accused of hacking the Stratfor intelligence firm as members of Anonymous, are facing life in prison for nonviolent computer crimes.
But despite calls for the White House and Washington to relinquish their mission to censor the Internet and strip online freedoms away from Americans, a war against overzealous cybersecurity legislation remains rampant. In lieu of reform – reform even advocated by some members of Congress – both the Executive and Legislative branches alike are preparing to push for new rules that some say will only ruin the Internet.
Pres. Obama is believed to have already signed a cybersecurity executive order this week that, when unveiled, is expected to include privacy-damning provisions that will put in place a direct plan of action for the private sector to share consumer information with the government. According to some reports, the order could be made public as soon as during Tuesday evening’s address. On Wednesday, however, the architects of last year’s Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, plan to reintroduce their bill during a seminar in Washington, rekindling a mission Anonymous says would turn “private companies into government informants.” Regardless of if either is discussed during Tuesday night’s address, however, hacktivists are preemptively asking for a world-wide attack on the State of the Union to be led by a legion of Anons.
“We reject the State of the Union. We reject the authority of the President to sign arbitrary orders and bring irresponsible and damaging controls to the Internet,” Anonymous writes. “The President of the United States of America, and the Joint Session of Congress will face an Army tonight.”
“There will be no State of the Union Address on the web tonight.”
Anonymous is asking for people around the globe to prepare for an online battle Tuesday evening that will take a multi-prong approach in hopes of rendering some Internet streams of the president’s address unavailable and educating the world’s about his administration’s ruthless interpretation of both computer law and the US Constitution alike. In addition to waging a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) against websites carrying the SOTU stream, Anons also plan to spam Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social media sites with information about the president’s cybersecurity order, CISPA and other items likely to be left out of Tuesday’s speech.
“He will not be covering the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act], an act of outright tyrannical legislation allowing for indefinite detention of citizens completely outside due process and the rule of law,” reads the press release in part. “He will not be covering the extra-judicial and unregulated justifications for targeted killings of citizens by military drones within the borders of America, or the fact that Orwellian newspeak had to be used to make words like ‘imminent’ mean their opposite.”
Elsewhere, Anonymous attacks the president’s hesitance to publically discuss Private first class Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old accused whistleblower who has been imprisoned without trial for nearly 1,000 days for allegedly leaking information about the United States’ own war crimes. Nor will he discuss, claims Anonymous, “the secret interpretations of law that allow for warrant-less wiretapping and surveillance of any US citizen without probably cause of criminal acts.”
Indeed, the matters of Pfc Manning and the recent renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and other Fourth Amendment-eroding legislation have been by-and-large removed from talking points touched on by the president during his first term in office. Next, Anonymous fears, a tightening grip on the Internet could mean even more infringement, authorized by an administration that aims to gain control of the world’s main method of communication.
“We will form a virtual blockade between Capitol Hill and the Internet,” warns Anonymous. In a separate statement issued by the AnonRelations sect, one member writes, “President Obama and the State of the Union Address will be BANISHED from the Internet for the duration of live delivery.”
“This action is being taken to underline a fact that appears to be sorely unrecognized by the Obama Administration – that the Internet is a sovereign territory, and does not fall under the jurisdiction of any nation state.”
In a public discussion held for planning purposes online, one Anon writes, “Anyone and everyone on the Internet who opposes the current efforts by the US government to control the Internet and their actions against liberty at home and abroad will be DIRECTLY ENGAGED in LULZ WARFARE.” The group has since collected a number of news links relating to relevant White House policies and the URLs for websites that might be momentarily brought down by a coordinated DDoS attack, including the official White House stream for the president’s address. FBI.gov, House.gov and the website for C-SPAN have all been listed as potential targets as well.
“Armed with nothing more than Lulz, Nyancat and PEW-PEW-PEW! Lazers, we will face down the largest superpower on Earth,” the AnonRelations bulletin reads.
OpLastResort, the Anonymous-led mission launched in retribution for the death of Aaron Swartz that is largely attributed to alleged prosecutorial overreach by the Obama administration, has endorsed the planned assault on the State of the Union. On the website OpLastResort.com, the administrator insists there will be no State of the Union broadcast on the Web “for freedom, for Aaron Swartz, for the Internet, and of course, for the lulz.” A member of AnonRelations calls the latest action a continuation of OpLastResort, but also “a direct response to intelligence gathered about upcoming executive order.”
Since Mr. Swartz’ passing in December, Anonymous has hacked into a database of Federal Reserve emergency numbers, defaced the website of the US Sentencing Commission and posted the log-in credentials for over 4,000 US banking executives on a hacked frontpage for the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. When asked whether he thought these maneuvers were making a difference, former Anonymous member Gregg Housh tells RT that the operations are not going unrecognized.
“I think the ops are having an interesting effect,” Housh says in an online chat hours before Tuesday’s State of the Union Address. “It has their attention . . . in a way I haven’t seen before.”
“I think something is happening,” adds Housh, “it is just happening at the pace at which Washington is used to going, and the Internet is used to ‘Internet time,’ which is much faster.”