I'm absolutely loving the Anonymous collective's attacks on Visa, Mastercard, Amazon, PayPal and various other corporations who've decided that censorship is a matter of commercial wisdom.
The old definition of a state is a body which reserves to itself the right to use force against its citizens or other states/their citizens. To some extent, this still applies online: every major country, from the UK to China employs an army of hackers: China recently downloaded all global e-mails, Israel infected Iran's science computers, Russia attacked Lithuania and the Chinese have access to basically all of the US's critical infrastructure.
However, the danger of training masses of computer programmers is that hackers tend to be contrary libertarian weirdos. Some will do whatever they're paid to, but quite a lot of these bedroom warriors will develop skills and apply them if they think there's a challenge in it - like Gary McKinnon, autistic sysadmin. Put a hacker in front of a big bad corporation or government and they'll have a go.
So - and as you may know, I read a lot of 'hard' SF, where the notion of flowing around states and corporations rather than allowing them to dictate the shape and direction of the online world - each hacker is now in possession of the tools formerly reserved to the state. A Distributed Denial of Service (automated mass hits on a website to block access to legitimate users) using a tool like LOIC (Low Orbit Ion Cannon - the name tells you all you need to know about these kids: they play a lot of computer games) is essentially a weapon available to a global, untraceable collective. Sure, my institution blocks DDOS software like LOIC, but most users are at home, limited only by bandwidth. Download LOIC here to get involved in Operation Payback.
A part of me worries that these guys are selfish libertarians with no regard for democracy, but an alternative reading is that they're anarchist-syndicalists of the kind portrayed in Ken MacLeod's Scottish Trotskyist-libertarian science fiction. Their principles are those of Jefferson which I quoted yesterday: freedom of information leads to free societies, and organisations which block, reserve or squat on information are the lumbering dinosaurs which need to be brought down.
There's a good deal of idealism and fantasy in the anarchist-egalitarian world of hacking and futurism, partly because these people are only now developing an ideological base, but I'm all for it. It has the potential to bring to life a non-capitalist, non-statist democracy of the kind envisioned by Lenin and Trotsky before the Russians became wedded to the state-communism model.
Where things are getting interesting is the overflow of DDOS-style activism into the offline world. What is the fluid, random, 'flash-mob' style closedowns of Vodafone, TopShop and other outlets organised by UK Uncut to protest against tax evasion if it isn't a distributed denial of Service? Loose, leaderless groups coalesce with minimal organisation for a specific event before melting away again. No structure for the cops to infiltrate, no long-term planning, no hierarchy: just a shared set of ideals and limited set of objectives.
It's not new of course: UK Uncut are drawing on the traditions of Captain Swing, the Luddites, the Rebecca Rioters and the Chartists - but faster.
Hackers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose except your social lives!