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ANONYMOUS vs the Australian Government: Down the Rabbit Hole We Go

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, September 18 2009

In Australia, PdF friend Mark Pesce reports, there's been a fascinating confrontation between "ANONYMOUS" and the government over the issue of internet censorship. A week ago, hackers temporarily brought down the Prime Minister's website, along with that of the Australian Communications and Media Authority. They were apparently riled up over pending proposals by the government and its Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, to introduce the mandatory filtering of the internet by all websites in Australia. Here's a snippet of their manifesto:

Hello, Kevin Rudd. We are Anonymous. We have been watching you.

It wasn't very long ago since you were elected, was it? The media hype surrounding your future government back in 2007 was incredible. Many of us Australians saw both you and Barack as beacons of potential to bring end to the conservative culture that currently swamps the USA and Australia. Many of us thought otherwise, and it turns out they were right.

You, as a leader, have failed us. You are bringing an end to what is the greatest link between all people; the one thing that can cross all cultural boundaries, that can bring people together despite ethnicity, political or religious standings, class or nationality; the largest information transfer ever created. You, a democratically elected leader, have decided to do what only the most power-hungry of all tyrants dare:

You have opted to censor the internet.

Mark explains what's going on here:

What is ANONYMOUS? It's difficult to say with any precision. At its core, it is an agreement between anonymous net-connected individuals to pursue aligned interests. There is no formal organisation, and what coordination an anonymous organisation needs can be handled through the same bulletin boards and websites where these individuals regularly congregate.

The lines of communication are already open - that's why ANONYMOUS exists in the first place. ANONYMOUS has been described "as a flock of birds". Just as birds can flock together, fly away, peel off and form a new flock, the same is true for those who call themselves ANONYMOUS.

He then gives some of the history of ANONYMOUS's ongoing campaign against the church of Scientology, as well as its general animus towards internet censors. (American readers may recall a flurry online a few weeks ago, when it appeared that AT&T was blocking access to 4chan, the website at the hub of many ANONYMOUS escapades, and people started making noises about going to war against the telco. That episode was defused rapidly when the company made clear it was actually trying to defeat a DNS attack against 4chan.) After recounting the events of last week in Australia, Mark then explains why all may not be as it seems.

AnonSA, the South Australian branch of ANONYMOUS - which runs a very professional-looking website at - have unequivocally distanced themselves from any illegal actions done by anyone calling themselves ANONYMOUS. So, ok, it might have been ANONYMOUS, but it wasn't the South Australian ANONYMOUS. And, since anyone can freely call themselves ANONYMOUS, well, who knows, really, who's doing what?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the rabbit hole. We're all the way down in it. Everything we think we might know turns out to be much less than we believe. ANONYMOUS, because it is an organisation based in anonymity, has no effective centre of control to keep elements from 'going rogue' and causing all sorts of grief in the name of ANONYMOUS. If that's what happened.

In Australia, ANONYMOUS will always be tarred with the attack on the PM's website - whether or not they were responsible for it. For all we know, one of the many enemies of ANONYMOUS could have pulled the stunt in order to discredit ANONYMOUS, the classic mark of an agent provocateur.

So was this the work of some overheated 'script kiddies', or something more sinister? We don't know, and we may never know. The Defense Signals Directorate are looking into the affair, but with the funhouse mirrors all reflecting the face of Guy Fawkes, even their abilities are somewhat limited.

What we do know is this: it is possible - and ever easier - for individuals to band together in common purpose while maintaining their anonymity. What they choose to do with that power will shape the 21st century.

We've had a small taste, but there's much more to come.