On Monday, the controversial hacktivist group Anonymous posted 1.7 gigabytes of data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics site on the online file sharing site The Pirate Bay.
The bureau, a branch of the Department of Justice, collects and analyzes crime data including information about computer security. The leak seems to be part of a new Anonymous movement called “Monday Mail Mayhem,” or MMM, likely created in the same spirit as their “Fuck FBI Friday.”
Anonymous accompanied the data with a message and video, saying, “We are releasing data to spread information, to allow the people to be heard and to know the corruption in their government. We are releasing it to end the corruption that exists, and truly make those who are being oppressed free.”
As of now, no incriminating information has been found. Anonymous didn’t specify what exactly they retrieved, but said the data included “lots of shiny things such as internal emails, and the entire database dump” and it is “to the public to find out” if there is anything scandal-worthy.
The video signed off with the trademark slogan, “We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us,” plus a new addition: “And now, you can expect a whole lot more.”
This is not the first time Anonymous has struck the DOJ. In an embarrassing incident back in February, Anonymous recorded and published an international conference call between FBI agents and investigators in Scotland Yard discussing how to bring the hackers down. The group has attacked targets ranging from Sony to the CIA to the Vatican when these entities were seen to have infringed upon free speech rights or committed other violations, in Anonymous' view.
So, Agents of Chaos, now what?
As the Batman villain Joker said in The Dark Knight, “I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught one. I just DO things. I'm a wrench in the gears.” This quote could just as well have been from Anonymous.
The hackers are addicted to the thrill of breaching the most difficult security systems in the world. Although they couch their actions in aphorisms of free speech and anti-corruption, this justification rings hollow.
Bolstered by delusions of grandeur and secure behind the anonymity of their computer screens, what the hackers really desire is a challenge to overcome and for an audience to know they overcame it. If they really cared about “the oppressed,” they would ensure the information they make public doesn’t result in collateral damage. Instead they use their anti-censorship stance to absolve them from the responsibility of vetting their data to ensure it doesn’t harm innocent people.
Despite the anarchic nature of the group, Anonymous doesn’t want the same level of chaos as the Joker. Although they have the ability to, Anonymous members are not providing tutorials on hacking the government. They have arguably done the FBI and CIA a favor by regularly exposing weaknesses in their security. They are neither so good or so evil. They merely yearn for a good puzzle and public validation, without the messy business of dealing with the fallout.
If faced with building the society they wanted, Anonymous would have no idea what to do and probably little desire to do it. Like so many revolutionaries, they thrive on struggling against a system, not building a new one.
But as Calvin Coolidge warned, “Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.”