Thursday, July 28, 2011

OpPayPal: Hacktivists Launch New, Legal Attack on PayPal

Below is my article atWikiLeaks Central yesterday. A follow-up article has been posted there today.

A second wave of online protests has been launched againt PayPal, the Internet payment company whose December 2010 blocking of WikiLeaks donations provoked angry Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks on their site. The latest protest, code-named #OpPayPal, was launched by AntiSec hacktivists, headed by Anonymous and Lulzsec, in response to recent FBI arrests of people allegedly involved in the earlier protest.

Statements posted by LulzSec and Anonymous encouraged PayPal users to close their accounts and condemned "the FBI's willingness to arrest and threaten those who are involved in ethical, modern cyber operations." The arrested individuals included a minor whose name could not be released in court, and Mercedes Renee Haefer, a 20 year old journalism student who now faces up to 15 years in prison and a maximum $500K fine.

Haefer's lawyer, Stanley L. Cohen of New York, told the media: "In the 18th century, people stood on street corners handing out pamphlets saying, 'Beware the all-powerful military and big government'. Some people listened. Some people walked away. Today, pamphleteers use the Internet."

"What the FBI needs to learn is that there is a vast difference between adding one’s voice to a chorus and digital sit-in with Low Orbit Ion Cannon, and controlling a large botnet of infected computers." said the Anonymous statement. "And yet both of these are punishable with exactly the same fine and sentence." As one protester stated: "A rapist gets 11 years. A minor hacking Paypal gets 15. Close your Paypal now."

The latest protest seems deliberately designed to maximize damage on PayPal (and their parent company Ebay) without breaking any laws, although LulzSec ominously warned: "Wise little LulzLizards should withdraw their funds from PayPal before we do."

Anonymous declared this "a historical activist movement" and noted that "PayPal continues to withhold funds from WikiLeaks, a beacon of truth in these dark times." The official @WikiLeaks Twitter account strongly endorsed the #OpPayPal protests. As many protesters have noted, you can still donate to organisations like the Klu Klux Klan on PayPal, but not to WikiLeaks.

PayPal originally claimed that it was blocking WikiLeaks donations due to illegal activity in contravention of its "Acceptable Use Policy". But WikiLeaks still has not been charged with any illegal activity and even vocal US opponents have conceded that WikiLeaks is protected by First Amendment laws just like other media and publishing companies.

Within hours of the protest's beginning, #OpPayPal was already globally trending in third place on Twitter. An Anonymous tweet claimed over 20,000 PayPal users had already closed their accounts, while others complained that they were confronted by blank screens when trying to close accounts. @AnonymousIRC mused: "According to Twitter trends, this is the most successful operation ever done. Let's see what eBay stock says in 90 minutes."

The answer was soon apparent. Minutes after the NYSE opened, Ebay stock plummeted nearly 2.5% - see Nasdaq:EBAY for latest figures. Within an hour, even the BBC had picked up the story.

In a statement, PayPal told BBC News: "As we state in our privacy policy, PayPal works with law enforcement or government officials if we receive a subpoena or court order; if we need to do so to comply with law; or if we believe in good faith that illegal activity has occurred."

Analysts are already calling this a major departure into legal direct action for Anonymous, LulzSec and AntiSec. There are countless Anonymous supporters on Internet forums, while the official @LulzBoat account has over 346,000 followers on Twitter. The hacktivists seem to have realized that they have strength in numbers, even without resorting to illegal hacking. A peaceful, legal protest like this also draws in many thousand of other sympathetic WikiLeaks supporters, who might otherwise hesitate to get involved.

As Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote after the British Government's massacre at Peterloo, Manchester in 1819:

'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.'

See the follow-up article here.

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