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Millennium Post

The legions are ready

Anonymous has been around since 2003. However, it rarely got noticed in India. Anonymous was some vague image for most Indians. Hackers. Whimsical activists whose method of protest was hacking. But nothing relevant to India. When the Occupy Wall Street protests, Indians were busy with the Jan Lokpal protests. It was a 'foreign' thing. Imagine the surprise of people to wake up to Anonymous taking on the government on censorship!

Initial reactions were ones of suspicion. Why were these western people even interested in India? We, as a country have been carefully taught to be paranoid about 'foreign hands' by the very people who work the most for foreign interests. Witness the oppression of the Koodankulam activists, or the tribals fighting for Niyamgiri at the hands of the state who claim the activists have vested interests. Yet, the government is fighting to start a Russian made nuclear reactor, and the only thing Indian about Vedanta is its name, while the people fighting on the ground are most certainly Indian. Needless to say, the idea of the foreign hand itself is very obscure, and we have a deep suspicion of the obscure too. And of course, these are stray examples. Protests are happening all over India over something or the other. And they are all delegitimised because of who the people protesting are. What happens when we throw a vague bunch of nameless, formless individuals into such a mix?

Well... it has been interesting as starts go.

For one, there is no one to dig up dirt on. Individuals acting without a name leaves nothing but the cause to examine. The pet political discreditions are actually owned as a strength. Foreign hand? Sure. Anonymous answer to no nationality. Illegal actions? Yep - fairly obvious - they are hacking servers to leave their mark. Servers of big, important entities. But what can you do about it? Nothing. It may be possible to find and arrest a few careless individuals, if the government cyber bodies are really as good as advertised. So far, no one has been caught. Nor have they stopped, which brings you right back to their cause. The playground has changed, and no one really knows how this game will go.

Operation India started when some Anons from India got outraged by the increasing censorship of the internet in India. Within a few quick conversations, an operation was born. The very next day, the first servers went down under DDoS attacks. Defaced websites started showing up and the hacktivists, as they call themselves had captured the attention of those they wanted to confront. Three kinds of blocks were the focus of their ire. The first was a block of sites that could potentially pirate content. The second was to block sites that can allow anonymous sharing of content – Pastebin, for example. The third was specific targets. A list of blocked sites they got off the Reliance servers had a lot of urls containing 'Satish Seth', which they say they investigated because it seemed curious and found no court order for (it is possible that there may be one that is not online).

Satish Seth was an employee of Reliance arrested in the course of the 2G scam investigations. Pages including those on major news sites like telegraphindia and moneycontrol were on the list. Blogs on blogspot, tumblr, profiles on twitter, linkedIn. They could have been dismissed as offensive, but the page on moneycontrol.com was the fourth page of the search results for the term satish seth. This page would be changing with news being added. What was the point in blocking it? They entered the server at least four times that we know of, each time emerging with a copy of the latest list of the sites blocked. Today's list had NDTV on it for some reason. A quick look at the urls also included urls to images and javascript files! It seems that there are ad hoc additions to the list that are just url grabs from search results or links from a page. The method of obtaining the information apart, the very idea that protests of the Air India pilots were blocked for Reliance subscribers, or that a news website was blocked is a very disturbing discovery.

It is very telling about the state of censorship in India that there is no oversight over what content can be arbitrarily blocked without any disclosure by corporations providing internet access. None. What began as outrage over the blocking of entire content sharing websites to prevent piracy takes on a very, very serious turn when legitimate content can be suppressed from reaching people without any oversight. It is a matter of debate whether attacking such suppression is a bad idea.

It is also very telling that for all our much touted cyber security, the servers that got hacked almost a month ago now, are still open to hackers to walk in and copy latest versions of files. CERT issued a standard denial that nothing was happening and it was so absurd after an entire day of their website being down paraded in social media, that it led to another day of parading screenshots of their website being down on the same sites. It could be funny, but these people are the ones responsible for the state of cyber security in the country. What does it mean when our laws and regulations for technology are determined by those who lack understanding of them and what happens when organisations are inflated to being far more capable than they are? We are seeing it now.

And now, we have protests on the ground. 16 cities and counting have people planning to protest against internet censorship on this Saturday, the 9 June 2012 from 4pm onwards. These people are not hackers. They want their freedoms back. They are coming out on the street openly in support of the actions of Anonymous. There is a sense of euphoria that comes with something blocked being released. Whether it will succeed? No one knows. What is more, no one cares. They care about making their stand and they care about continuing for as long as it takes. Whether it happens in this protest itself or later. This itself is a surprisingly mature stand by people commonly ridiculed as irresponsible and shortsighted. They are in for the long haul.

Is this necessarily a good thing? No one knows. Should censorship be stopped completely? I don't think anyone demands that. Is hacking a good idea? Likely not. However, the time has come to put a priority on issues that need addressing, and the identity of the hackers or the legality of their protest is a farily minor issue when put next to the utter anarchy being legalised in the current state of affairs.

Their demand that censorship be drastically cut down or removed altogether and alternative means of dealing with illegal content be found is not an unreasonable response to today's circumstances. It is something Indians are facing in every aspect of their life as powerful people get away with damaging nation sustaining balances into their favor, while the burdens of safeguarding their interests get inflicted on the citizens in general. Whether it is the rights of the internet citizens being curtailed to prevent piracy or it is the home of the adivasis of Niyamgiri being sold for mining. People recognize this, and they are increasingly resistant to it continuing.

It is about the rights of the common man in a democracy.

The government would be wise to read the writing on the wall. The Anonymous are in India and they are here to stay.

'We are anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect Us!'
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