Crime and punishment in the Internet Age

As Gilbert and Sullivan would say, “Let the punishment fit the crime.”

While we at GCN were all busy with preparations for the recent FOSE expo and conference, the FBI was also quite busy. On July 19, agents arrested 16 suspected members of Anonymous, the group initiating civil disobedience on the Internet since 2003.

The arrests took place on the same day in 10 different states and the District of Columbia. The warrants were issued specifically for the group’s alleged execution of a distributed denial-of-service attack on PayPal following PayPal’s decision to not facilitate donations to Wikileaks.

This week we learned that one of them, a Christopher Wayne Cooper, who goes by the moniker “Anthrophobic,” was going to have an unusual condition set on his bail. (I use the word ‘moniker’ deliberately to remove any remaining coolness the pseudonym might have had left.) As a condition of his pretrial release, the Justice Department said Cooper must avoid using the Internet. Justice had originally demanded Cooper consent to monitoring software being installed on all of his computers, but this week withdrew that latter demand, saying it wasn’t appropriate.

The monitoring software issue has been a controversial one. Usually the software is not tailored to the specific offense, so it is then ruled too broad or overreaching. At that point it becomes a constitutional issue.

While letting such a suspect have any access to a computer might seem foolhardy, we must remember that he is in fact innocent until proven otherwise. If he’s found guilty, then Justice would be on more firm footing if it wants to try to use monitoring software to enforce a ban. And how you enforce a ban of Internet use, with or without monitoring software on specific computers, is another story altogether.

Either way, Cooper has already been punished, and by his own people. Similar to the first rule of “Fight Club,” the first rule to being a member in Anonymous is to stay, well, anonymous. Having your identity revealed in relation to your crimes apparently gets you kicked out of their little hacker club.

So, 16 guys arrested by the FBI, not only are you likely to be banned from the Internet for the foreseeable future, but you don’t have your hacker club friends anymore. That’s okay, I guess; chances are you didn’t know who they were anyway.

While I have your attention, 16 guys, I have a question. If you are banned from the Internet, how are you reading this? Ha! Gotcha!

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


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