Tag Archives: hacktivism

Hacktivism: Releasing the Power of Technology for Social Change

This week in class, we read an article on CNN concerning the state of internet censorship in North Korea. The essential message conveyed by the article is that North Korea is a long way from being a free and open society, especially when it comes to technology and accessing information through the Internet. Technology  and access to information is a powerful equalizer- applicable to all functions of equality from quality of education to economic opportunity. Conversely, as is the case with North Korea, technology can also be used as a tool of oppression by restricting access to information and the ability to communicate with the outside world.

Yesterday, CNN reported that the hacker collective identifying as themselves as Anonymous, is beleived to havhacked the official North Korea Flickr account and Twitter account. The Flickr account hosted a “wanted” poster with an image showing Kim with a pig’s ears and nose-accusing Kim of “threatening world peace with ICBMs and nuclear weapons.” Anonymous demanded the resignation of Kim, democracy in North Korea, and uncensored Internet access for all North Koreans.

The Anonymous collective is part of a greater movement called hacktisism, a form of electronic civil disobedience that employs the use of technology and internet to promote political ends, human rights, free speech  and information ethics. Hacktivism is carried out under the promise that proper use of technology produces an impact similar to those produced by protest, activism, and civil disobedience.


A recent opinion piece in the New York Times, explains a hacktivist as, “someone who uses technology hacking to effect social change”. The opinion piece classifies hacktivism as being “fundamentally  about refusing to be intimidated or cowed into submission by any technology, about understanding the technology and acquiring the power to repurpose it to our individual needs, and for the good of the many.” However, there is currently a divide between different interpretations of hacktivists. The conflict is between “those who want to change the meaning of the word to denote immoral, sinister activities and those who want to defend the broader, more inclusive understanding of hacktivists”.

Hacking is illegal. However, in some countries, protesting is as well. This leads to the question of whether the intent of hacking holds enough worth and importance to over-write the technical illegality of the act it-self. People in North Korea do not have the option to achieve change through social media simply by the fact that everything they do online is tied to their identity, making it very dangerous to speak out against the government or try to access information outside North Korea’s censored barriers. The utilization of technology and social media as a tool of social progress has proven to be imperative. Again and again, having access to social media has proven to be an invaluable tool in fighting oppression as exemplified in recent movements such as the Arab Spring and the Syrian conflict in which access to information and unbiased media sources is near impossible. If Anonymous hacked official North Korean sites to try to change the state of censorship, oppression and restricted access to information of its citizens, should it be considered illegal? Or should it be considered an act of civil disobedience committed for the betterment of North Korean citizens?

An article published by info security holds that ” regardless of political motivation or intent, if there are victims of the attacks they perpetrate, then hacktivism has crossed the line.” Conversely, hacking collectives like Anonymous believe that technologies should be in the hands of the people rather than out of their control, implying that the intent of their actions weighs more than the illegal nature of their hacks.

“Hacktivism” & the Arab Spring

Syrian Revolution Poster

It is becoming increasingly evident that technology plays an integral role in the fight for human liberty and good governance. Time’s 2011 person of the year is the protester, but without increased technological capacity in areas such as the Middle East, movements such as the Arab Spring may not have been possible. In countries like Syria and Egypt, access to the internet, social media, camera phones etc… helped connect activists, spread news of the fight on a global scale, and documented cases of human rights abuse. When the tear-gassing of a crowd by riot police can reach an audience of millions, governments face accountability for their actions and this accountability is a measure of protection for protesters.

The activists of the Arab Spring were dependent on access to a free web. The motivation and skill to use these resources were there, but Censorship and spyware cut activists off from global media and place their lives at risk. This is where “hacktivism” comes in. In support of the Arab Spring, several non-governmentally affiliated organizations from the West arrose as stakeholders supporting this technological revolution and increasing the technological capacity of activists limited by restrictive govornments. They began hacking to provide tech support to break the hold of censorship and offer anonymity to protesters.

One group called Telocomix began helping activists use Skype and Facebook to bypass tapped phones. In August of 2011, they circumvented Internet censorship in Egypt by faxing dial-up numbers of European servers to Universities, offices and coffee shops in the country. Telocomix also scans networks for surveillance devices and helped lead to the discovery that certain U.S. companies were selling this equipment to Middle Eastern governments. Another organization, The Tor Project, builds software that can be downloaded to help activists anonymously bypass Internet censorship. Also, a group called Witness has created an app called ObscureCam. This app is designed to capture human rights violations, while automatically obscuring the faces of any people in the people involved, protecting their identities.

Jess Charwin