commentary Watching members of Anonymous talk among themselves can sometimes be a little bit painful. There's sometimes misinformation, trolling, fools that walk in to a conversation looking to cause trouble, and a carnival-style chaos that, to the average bystander, doesn't make much sense.
But during the theft of AAPT's data, the Australian branch of Anonymous had a few subtle differences. One was that more senior members of the group had a very strong stance against the leak of personal information. They also kept warmongering anons — those constantly asking for a target — in their place, by telling them that they would not launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. It's worth remembering, up front, that what Anonymous did was illegal and they didn't even completely remove all personal information (dates of birth were still present) from the data, but it does give one hope that Anonymous might actually be evolving.
The group did, for example, start to consider whether they could write a submission in response to the Attorney-General's proposal on data retention legislation. For a group that often (and sometimes incorrectly) earns the reputation of being a bunch of script kiddies, a submission is a rather mature and a legitimate way of getting its voice heard, even when it has obviously lost faith in the process of government.
The one thing I can say for Anonymous is that there is, at least, a motivation to do something about an issue. Most individuals I know aren't aware of the data retention debate. Furthermore, of those that are, the majority have yet to do anything about it, even if they feel very strongly in one way or another.
In some ways, Anonymous' motivation is even admirable, considering that so many hacktivists have been arrested in recent times. It begins to make me wonder what the group could really do, legally, if it was willing to withstand the risk of prosecution.
Of course, one could argue that I'm thinking too highly of Anonymous — and they might be right. Anonymous might only be in it solely for the "lulz", with the political reasons there just to provide a thin veil of legitimacy. They may have simply stumbled into AAPT's data, and attempted to turn it into an argument against data retention legislation. They also (jokingly?) threatened to flame me after I filed a news article which quoted someone's negative opinion of them, an act of censorship that seems to counter their views of a free internet.
But they did bring the issue of security to the forefront of people's minds that week. System administrators in Optus, iiNet and Telstra, in particular, were no doubt furiously checking to make sure it wasn't them. And they have, in the past, delivered a sense of justice by tracking down paedophiles and child abusers who use the same anonymity of the internet to hide — an issue even the Australian Federal Police struggles with when trying to do it the "right" way.
They also appear to be learning that they aren't alone on their cause. A few years ago, I wouldn't have expected them to have taken an interest in Electronic Frontiers Australia, urge others to tune in to debates on national television about the issue or to sign GetUp's petition, yet this is what their chaotic conversations have sometimes turned to. The Anonymous from years ago would, more likely, be focusing on how to launch a DDoS attack or gather more supporters.
The group hasn't gone completely goody-two-shoes, and I doubt this marks the end of the "lulz" we've grown accustomed to, but these more mature acts give hope that the group could evolve into something more than it currently is. It does, after all, leave one wondering how much more they could accomplish if they started playing politicians at their own game, by keeping it legal and, in effect, become a democracy of the internet.