Low Orbital Ion Cannon with Hivemind.
In the last few days a new phenomenon has occurred, technology has met the needs of the individual to take direct political action in a new and powerful way.
Until this week any civil society with a bone to pick, or a cause to stand for has had to march to protest, send letters or risk unpredictable direct action. Our democracies have grown up relying on the powerlessness of individuals, setting the hoops for organised opposition to jump through, ensuring that the debate is always in the dialect of the state, expressed in ways that don't disrupt the status quo too much.
The Wikileaks issue is on the face of it all about freedom of information, the response by governments has been the usual mix of denial, coercion, diplomatic negotiation and financial sanction. Whether or not this is the right course of action is debatable, as is the validity of the accusations levelled at Julian Assange himself, but these debates have almost become irrelevant compared to the big story, one that possibly rivals the Dreyfus affair or Watergate in magnitude. I use those two examples because they share common ground with the events of December 2010 'DDos Day'.
By an ironic twist we see a press that is frightened for its role amidst online competition, actually mis-reporting events that concern its most sacred mantra 'freedom of the press' (see Watergate). At the same time we have governments that have failed to grasp the changes that an online society will increasingly demand from it and we watch them seriously underestimate the sophistication of public opinion regarding the matter.
Until now governments could afford to wage a slow campaign to restore public opinion, using a discrediting strategy and eroding groundswell support until it was negligible, a lumbering technique, but a time honoured one, that ensures success provided the peeved masses have no immediate access to power. The problem governments face today is that the masses can move far, far quicker than the machines of state can handle, and they have found a unique, rich source of power, simple immediate communication.
So it is that a small group of people, familiar with the internet, made an existing online tool available, LOIC (Low Orbital Ion Cannon) is an open source software application that allows for streams of data to be focused at a chosen host. At some point a control was added (called Hivemind), that allows the choice of host, or target, to be got from an external source.
Both of these are legitimate applications, a communication tool, and a peer to peer networking tool, combined they make a basic tool for running DDos (Distributed Denial of service) attacks, that can be told its target from the internet.
The effect of this synthesis of two existing mainstream applications was that anyone capable of installing Microsoft Word on their computer, could use it, and the worlds first app of civil disobedience was born.
With the Wikileaks issue being such a buzz on the social networks it didn't take long for news to spread that anyone could, if they wished, protest directly by uploading and installing "LOIC with Hivemind". By December the 9th 300,000 people had done so.
At this stage The Press were still reporting that a small group of hackers were causing trouble, when in effect it was a sizeable section of the public that were responsible for the sustained attacks on Paypal, MasterCard etc. Targets that were popularly identified with exerting pressure on Wikileaks to stop.
It is useful for the villains to be a 'small' group of nasty 'hackers' because they can be marginalised and hunted, in the hope that the true extent of public dissatisfaction with their governments behaviour doesn't become widely known. However the mechanism and the tool is now out there, it will become more sophisticated as time progresses, and it will probably become a mainstream method of protest. I can see it now, version 8 of Microsoft Riot. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain, the time when governments held the key to democratic voice is passing, the sooner they recognise that they have to put their money where their mouth is, and use the internet as a truly democratic tool, the better.
There is a certain poetic in this whole affair; the freedom of information that Wikileaks is championing, and most states are attempting to silence, is the same medium that is growing exponentially with social networks on the web, and has enabled this form of civil disobedience ~ ironically, it is data itself, that is being used as a projectile to cripple the targets.
The trusted weapon of governments, financial sanctions, is precisely the same weapon that the protesters have used, but there is one big difference, none of those protesting are financial entities, nor is Wikileaks, they have far less to lose than the businesses and governments that are facing the disapproval of the public.