All posts by S. Matzen


The Pentagon, China’s human rights agency, India’s major nuclear weapons manufacturers, and Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo have all been attacked recently, not physically, but by computer hackers. “Hacktivists” around the world are launching a series of electronic attacks on web sites of oppressive institutions. Tactics range from electronic graffiti to bombarding servers and effectively halting all traffic to a site.

Recent actions include an attack by the Mexican group X-Ploit on the country’s finance ministry website, replacing it with the face of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata in sympathy with the Chiapas rebellion. On Nov 22, the Electronic Disturbance Theater in NY attacked the site of the U.S. Dept. of Defense’s “School of the Americas,” which trains representatives from repressive Latin American military and intelligence forces. Electronic Disturbance Theater attacks flood the server with requests for the site, severely limiting “legitimate” access and potentially crashing the server. Potential of Hacktivism.

Hacktivism has a lot of immediate potential. A lot of visibility for revolutionary movements can be generated by changing websites to reflect our political views, both through the sites themselves, and through the significant mainstream media coverage the actions receive. More importantly, the internet is an increasingly serious business tool. Since it is so easily open to attack, revolutionary groups should take this opportunity to wreak havoc and Run! Hacktivism’s Flaws.

But hacktivism has definite flaws. We should be wary of depending to heavily on technology as a vehicle for activism. The internet and much of the other technology used in hacktivism originated within the US Dept. of Defense. There is a certain enjoyable irony using these tools to wound their parents. But activists must make sure the social institutions maintained by the military-industrial complex do not taint internet-based actions.

One danger is that the movement is potentially non-diverse — in two major survey articles focusing on hacktivism, no women were mentioned, and no groups operating out of Africa were described. Although some groups are putting up sites with directions making hacktivist actions accessible to novice hackers, and although the activists are generally of a younger generation of hackers, the fact remains that the actions are primarily accessible to people with an extensive computer background, which is a generally male and middle class group of people.

There is also discussion within the hacker community questioning whether hacktivism violates the community’s ethical standards. Hackers traditionally have engaged in electronic exploration for its own sake– hacking has been driven by curiosity, not by malicious intentions. “The bottom line to me is that hackers have no moral right to break into someone else’s system. India and Pakistan have no inherent moral right to put humanity at risk and to further damn our environment. Conflicting moralities do not justify vigilante action” pointed out a letter-writer to the folks who hacked the Indian nuclear bomb makers’ sites.

In many ways it is a guerrilla war– groups changing websites and institutions retaliating. Hackers may have the advantage now, but institutions are devoting more energy to deflecting the attacks. While hacktivism has potential, energy devoted to it means less energy going towards organizing in the streets, where the effects are more promising and lasting.

Hacktivist Actions

o On Oct., 27, a day after China’s human rights agency announced its new Web site, the official view of that nation’s human rights record was replaced with an electronic trespasser’s manifesto: “China’s people have no rights at all, never mind human rights. How can the United States trade millions and millions of dollars with them and give them most-favored trade status when they know what is happening?”

o Groups MilwOrm and Ashtray Lumberjacks, acting together, orchestrated a unprecedented mass hack directed towards all of the nuclear powers, replacing pages on more than 300 sites with an anti-nuclear statement, complete with angry red mushroom cloud

o On Aug. 1st, the Portuguese group Kaotik Team hacked 45 Indonesian government Websites, altering web pages to include messages calling for full autonomy for East Timor.

o Indonesian government email accounts were flooded and several websites were hacked on Aug. 12th by hackers from China and Taiwan, to protest the fact that Chinese-Indonesians were targeted for torture, rape and looting during the anti-Suharto riots in May.

o On Oct. 13th, political activists took over an Indian government web site and posted messages and photos calling attention to alleged government-sponsored repression and human rights violations in the contested northern Indian state of Kashmir.

Communities of Fear

Communities of Fear

Our communities are in crisis, due to the burgeoning growth of gated communities and the security industry. Gated communities are becoming the norm of development; security systems, including surveillance cameras and private guards, monitor-an increasing portion of public life. There -is no obvious need for this security frenzy: crime rates have fallen steadily, throughout the 1990′s. But however unnecessary, the trend is potentially devastating to communities. Communities cannot function when people live in gated enclaves, segregated by wealth and class. A social system based around fear and enforced isolation is asking for revolt by those outside the gates.

Gated communities are becoming the model for home development. Since 1970, gated communities have increased by a factor of ten, numbering 20,000 in 1997. Fifty-two percent of Dallas-area home buyer feel gated, communities are desirable or essential, according to a National Association of Home Builders 19% survey. The demand for gated communities is spread across the home buyer spectrum: mobile homes, as well as upscale houses, are being developed within walls and gates.

What do these people feel they will gain by the gates? Psychologically, gates and valid are linked to protection but often ft structures surrounding these communities can be easily scaled. And many advertisements and newspaper, articles describing gated communities list them in relatively affluent surroundings, A gate does offer control of who enters the neighborhood and who comes to the door. But with control comes predictability, and can quickly lead to a sense of isolation. Mental health practitioners are in fact seeing increased incidences of social isolation, which is strongly linked to higher rates of disease and premature death.

Perhaps most importantly, a community composed of waited and gated enclaves is not a community. The impulse towards safety is being manifested as a desire to surround yourself with your own social class, shutting others. out. Children growing up in such non-diverse surroundings may have a grossly distorted world view. The end effect is segregation by socioeconomic class. Gates send a strong message: when you are on the outside, you are not good enough. To those on the inside, people on te outside will begin to seem less. trustworthy; the outsiders will be perceived as second class citizens. As Edward J. Blakely and Mary Gail Snyder point out in Fortress America: Gated Communities, in the United States, ‘For fine inside the gates, life may be a little more comfortable. For others’, however, gated communities. symbolizee a larger social pattern of segmentation and separation, designed to disassociate, and exclude.” What gated communities are really about is the abdication of, responsibility. Instead of dealing wit I h issues that make them uncomfortable, people who can afford gates and walls secret themselves away from things, scary – or maybe even just” different.

Communities are about sharing resources and responsibilities. Since most gated communities privatize everything within the gates, including streets, parks, and other municipal services, people living within the gates risk becoming anesthetized to issues outside the gates. They will likely no longer feel the need to share their resources. If the rich keep all their resources to themselves, the rest of the larger community will have work harder to maintain institutions outside the gate. The end result is the exacerbation of the problems” the gated folks tried to escape by living within the gates.

And what are these “problems”? The main difficulty” is that the people not living in gated communities will either be too poor to afford that level of security, or uninterested in living a segregated life- neither of which is cause for fanatical security and isolation. The fear and superiority the gated folks feel is clearly a consequence of a society that emphasizes wealth, class, and profit over community and humanity.

The concentration of wealth encouraged by gated communities almost guarantees a revolt by the peoplr outside the walls. Against of angry, frustrated people, walls and gates will offer laughably little protection. One private guard working at a gated community acknowledged that he could easily scale the gate. ‘It may be nice for a couple ofdecades,’ write Carolyn Shaffer and Kristen

Anundsen in Creating Community Anywhere, ‘But if there is too much disparity between the private enclaves of wealth and homogeneous groups of people, the rest of the community is going to be poor, frustrated and angry. And the walls are not going to be high enough to keep out the problems.”

Electronic Security System Additional protection measures are being taken, both in conjunction with and apart from gated communities. Elaborate security packages, including private guards, alarms, and surveillance cameras, are standard on 30% of new homes. Private security guards are being hired to. patrol neighborhoods, in addition to the conventional police presence. Nationally, private security is a $104 billion industry, while public security (such as local police forces) is a $44 billion industry. Private security guards offer somewhat illusory protection. Often, guards are hired specifically to observe. crimes and report them to the police force, instead of to intervene. Even in uniform, private guards are still only private citizens; anybody on the street has the power to detain a suspect for a ‘reasonable length of time.

‘Most criminals know exactly what those services do and what they can’t do, and they are not afraid of them like they are the police”‘ says Terry Schauer, senior lead officer at ,LAPD’s West Los Angeles station. Nonetheless, the security guard industry continues to expand. Some neighborhoods, both with and without gates, are hiring private security guards to patrol their streets.’ Several neighborhoods in the Baton Rouge, LA area have established mandatory taxes to fund the guards. Ironically, son* conservatives join civil libertarians in speaking against these residential tax districts. ‘it is going to Balkanize the cities even further,” argues Walter Abbott of the politically conservative Americans for Tax Reform. ‘It’s pitting neighborhood against neighborhood. Ifs a gate community without walls.” Electronic security systems are as ineffective as private guards. Electronic systems are standard on 30% of new homes; a fifth of United States residences now have alarm systems, compared to 1 % in 1970. Thesystems are little to sensitive, creating a boy-cries-wolf effect: in one luxury gatedcommunity, mosquitoes can set off the infrared motion sensors. Nationally, only 1%of alarms are valid. These mistakes lead police to deprioritize any alarm signal, real orspurious. A cop’s arrival an hour after the alarm sounds is meaningless, considered that most thieves can escape with their cargo in minutes.

Surveillance cameras are proliferating even faster than alarms systems. For several years, surveillance cameras have been staples of convenience stores and ATM’S, but spy cameras can increasingly be found monitoring all aspects of public life. In one eight block area of New York, NY Civil Liberties Union volunteers found 300 cameras in plain sight; many more could have been hidden. The presence of cameras often suggests an atmosphere of safety.

According to the Village Voice, however, no clear link exists between crime prevention and cameras. Researchers think cameras may cause decreases in petty crime such as vandalism, but probably don’t prevent larger comes. For instance, convenience store robberies have not significantly decreased, even after years of taping the cash register area. Cameras often are not monitored directly, and may not be monitored at all unless a crime occurs in the area. The tapes are only viewed afterwards with hopes of catching the perpetrators.

Security Through Community The security frenzy points to a crisis within our communities. For security’s sake, mainstream America accepts daily monitoring, and then returns home-to sealed homes inside sealed gates. But technology cannot provide household security precautions, we can better invest our attention and resources in strengthening our whole-community health and security, enhancing and opening up our lives instead of closing them down.” Carolyn Shaffer, also a Berkeley community organizer and author, echoes these thoughts: ‘People are very afraid to be vulnerable and have mistakenly thought that security comes through external systems of burglar alarms, gates, guns and police forces. What I believe is that true security comes through being willing to connect openly with one another, honestly and respectfully. Building those bonds and links of connection creates much greater security- than all the hardware, firepower or guards you can hire.’

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