Centre for Internet & Society
Hackers Take Protest to Indian Streets and Cyberspace

Hackers wearing Guy Fawkes masks will take to the streets to protest censorship on the Internet in India.

First there was self-styled Gandhian activist Anna Hazare who took to the streets to protest corruption. Now a group agitating against censorship on the Internet has arrived in India.

Hackers Take Protest to Indian Streets and Cyberspace

Hackers wearing Guy Fawkes masks will take to the streets to protest censorship on the Internet in India.

This article by Shreya Shah was published in the Wall Street Journal on June 8, 2012  Pranesh Prakash is quoted in this article.

Only this time, the location is cyberspace and their modus operandi hacking.

In the last few months, Anonymous –a group of hackers, or hacktivists as they like to call themselves –has gone after Web sites of political parties, government sites and Internet service providers, the latest being MTNL, to protest censorship on the Internet.

The group says they are opposing laws including the 2008 Information Technology (Amendment) Act and the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules of 2011, which they say unfairly restrict Internet freedom.

On Saturday, the hackers will take their protest to the streets, with an Occupy Wall Street-style march called ”Operation Occupy India” planned in 17 cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Nagpur in Maharashtra and Kundapur in Karnataka. The group has requested all protestors to wear Guy Fawkes masks, the symbol of Anonymous.

“This time the common man wants to help us,” an “anon,” which is what members of the group call themselves, told India Real Time.

Anonymous, which has a global presence, catapulted to fame with its attacks on Visa, Mastercard and Paypal.

This is how the group attacks Web sites: It overwhelms them with thousands of requests from different computer systems simultaneously. The Web site is unable to handle the load and crashes.

The group intensified its attacks after Internet Service Providers like Reliance, MTNL and Airtel temporarily blocked file sharing sites like Vimeo, Dailymotion, Patebin and Pirate bay, citing a Court order.

But many question the method used by Anonymous.

“I don’t believe in defacing or hacking government Web sites to prove a point,” says Ankit Fadia, a cyber security expert. “You can’t hold the government ransom,” he adds.

In an open letter to the government, Anonymous India defended its actions. It wrote that traditional ways of protesting are losing meaning and this is a new method to pressure the politicians.

Members of the group say that like a regular protest on the street, they too block the infrastructure of their opponents. Except in this case, the infrastructure is located in cyberspace.

This is a “geek method of attacking,” said the anon who spoke to India Real Time. The group does not plan to attacks sites like that of the Indian railways, for instance, which is used by the masses, he explained.

But not everyone is convinced.

The group attacked the Web site of India’s Supreme Court even when it says it does not attack Web sites used by the common man, says Pranesh Prakash, Program Director of the Center for Internet and Society.

The IT Act is another reason Anonymous is protesting. The Act gives the government the power to remove content it finds offensive. The government can also restrict public access to a Web site.

Anonymous is also protesting the Intermediary Guidelines of 2011. According to this Act, a site that hosts offensive content will have to remove it within 36 hours of a complaint against it.

As a result, Web sites like Google and Facebook are facing criminal cases for hosting objectionable content on their site.

“This government does not stand for censorship; this government does not stand for infringement of free speech. Indeed, this government does not stand for regulation of free speech,” Kapil Sibal, the Communications and Information Technology Minister told the Rajya Sabha, or the upper house of the Indian Parliament, last month.

Pranesh Prakash, of the Center for Internet and Society told India Real Time that he does not believe that Anonymous will influence policy makers. He says that the main aim of a protest is to get media attention, and in turn get the attention of the people.

But he agrees that India’s cyber laws are “hopelessly flawed” and create a framework by which not only the government but everyone can censor.

He adds, “The laws are a greater threat than Anonymous.”

Photo Source: Joel Saget/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images