In recent weeks, a hacker group called “Anonymous” has gained national attention by publicizing sensitive police information, organizing a protest against BART’s disruption of cell phone service, and calling for the resignation of Fullerton’s Police Chief after the police shooting of a local homeless man. A hacking threat against Facebook has also been made by an organization of the same name, accompanied by a video accusing the social networking giant of selling its users private information to government agencies around the world. Facebook’s security breach is scheduled for November 5th, which coincides with “Guy Fawkes Day,” a British holiday created in 1605 to celebrate the King’s escape from assassination by Guy Fawkes and other members of the infamous “Gunpowder Plot.” Fawkes’s visage, emblazoned on Anonymous’s website and worn on paper masks at demonstrations, has become the symbol of a group that claims to fight for the vigilant protection of web users’ privacy and rights. But many have questioned the morality of Anonymous’s methods and censured the public release of the personal information of people affiliated with organizations that become the object of the group’s ire. Is it ethical to sacrifice the private information of a relative few in the name of defending the general public’s online privacy? Cyber attacks may well cause the victims to shore up their own security, but is it likely that they will cause improvements in online security across the country? Or is Anonymous doing us a favor by forcing the companies that handle our credit card and passport information to do so more carefully? And can one really trust threats from an anonymous source anyway? Is Anonymous a modern day, high tech, kind of Robin Hood or scofflaw vigilantes?
Nick Bilton, lead technology writer on the Bits Blog for the New York Times; technology and business reporter for the New York Times
Hemu Nigam, CEO SSP Blue, an internet security consulting company
Karen North, director of the online communities program at USC’s Annenberg school of Communications and Journalism