The recent news of alleged LulzSec spokesperson Topiary’s arrest took the media spotlight away from WikiLeaks supporters’ demonstration against PayPal. But it also raises questions about how online laws are applied, and the credibility of those who enforce them.
While doubts remain over whether the police have arrested the right person, Topiary’s twitter account has been reduced to a single tweet: “You cannot arrest an idea.”
Topiary served as LulzSec’s witty media front-man and his clever humour was tempered by a strong sense of justice.
“Laws are to be respected when they’re fair, not obeyed without question,” he said in a recent interview. “Revolution, to me, is bringing down the big guy while not forgetting to stand up for the little guy.”
Topiary’s arrest is just the latest in a string of arrests which are set to turn the spotlight back onto the US justice system. Many Anonymous supporters doubt the evidence being used against alleged juvenile hackers, while the WikiLeaks legal case against financial services like Visa, PayPal and Mastercard will generate even more public scrutiny.
It’s worth noting that the US Department of Justice’s much-vaunted case against NSA whistle-blower Thomas Drake fell apart spectacularly, while US-CERT director Randy Vickers recently resigned without explanation after a string of embarrassing failures.
Meanwhile, FBI head Robert Mueller has been given two more years in the agency’s top job. A day after President Barack Obama signed a law allowing him to serve two years beyond the statutory 10-year limit, Mueller’s position was secured by a 100-0 Senate vote.
Mueller was appointed by President George W. Bush just a week before the 9/11 attacks in 2001. He has been widely accused by civil liberties groups of abusing powers granted under the controversial Patriot Act. Again, it’s worth asking why his re-appointment has been so avidly endorsed.
On Mueller’s watch the FBI has:
1. Completely failed to resolve the 2001 anthrax terrorist attacks. After harrassing an innocent suspect for years, the FBI settled out of court and turned their attention to another US government employee, Dr Bruce Ivins. The stress of the investigation drove him to an alleged suicide, and yet the evidence against him remains inconclusive and the anthrax attack controversy remains unresolved.
2. Responded in the most minimalistic fashion to Wall Street corruption.
3. Supported an amateurish smear of WikiLeaks after a contracted agency detected suspicious activity on Swedish servers using “so-called Internet protocol addresses”.
4. Provided support for ex-President Saleh’s corrupt dictatorship in Yemen.
5. Trained Egyptian government torturers.
6. Targeted US citizens for simply taking an interest in US foreign policy, and particularly harrassed US citizens who take trips to Israel and Palestine.
7. Allowed Pakistani agents to masquerade as fake FBI agents on US soil.
The FBI worked closely with PayPal to identify hackers in the December 2010 PayBack protest, after Paypal gave FBI investigators a list of 1000 IP addresses supposedly linked to the Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. The FBI is also targeting protestors who participated in a DDoS operation against Koch Industries, while ignoring similar attacks on the WikiLeaks website.
So what laws have been broken here, and how should they be punished? Is a modern digital DDoS attack on PayPal equivalent to a traditional sit-in protest outside a shop or a minister’s office? How should those who participate in such online communal protests be prosecuted, as opposed to the “big guns” who direct the traffic from their Low Orbital Ion Canons?
And if people are doing nothing illegal, is it OK to just change the law?
As the protracted extradition case against Julian Assange has demonstrated, the wheels of justice move slowly, and such delays tend to favour accusers over defendants. The financial blockade of WikiLeaks remains in place, and Assange remains under house arrest, despite widespread criticism.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks supporters are being urged to consider alternatives to PayPal. And Topiary’s voice remains very much alive.