Hidden behind computer screens and the iconic V for Vendetta movie mask is a hacktivist group called Anonymous. This leaderless group with members scattered throughout the globe advocates for freedom of speech, freedom of information and freedom of internet, according to an article by W3bsecurity.
The Huffington Post recently reported the group vowed to release the contact information of 1,000 members of the Klu Klux Klan. The first wave of information consisted of 57 phone numbers and 23 email addresses of alleged members of the KKK.
The KKK is a hate group whose mission and actions are widely condemned, however, is it ethical to release the personal information of its members?
Releasing information in this fashion is known as doxing, according to LXBN. Doxing is defined as using the Internet to search and publish potentially personally-identifying information about someone. Doxing isn’t against the law, especially if the information is obtained legally. However, if the information is obtained in an illegal way — such as hacking, or is used for illegal purposes, such as to harass, defame or annoy somebody — then it is an illegal act.
The motives behind Anonymous are good intentioned, aiming to fight for social justice, provide a voice for the voiceless and share information the group believes should be known to all. With releasing personal information of a group widely hated, there’s far less of a chance for civil debate, and a greater likelihood of harassment, threats and continued conflict.
When the contact information of users on the cheating website Ashley Madison were released by hackers, people were harassed as a result, according to a Bloomberg article. One user of the website reported receiving harassing text messages. Another user reported receiving a blackmail message, saying, “If you would like to prevent me from finding and sharing this information with your significant other, send exactly 1.0000001 Bitcoins (approx. value $225 USD) to the following address…”
Though this harassment is probably not the express intent behind Anonymous’s actions, it’s hard to deny the likelihood of extreme retaliation toward a group should its members’ information be handed to the public. (Source: eToro opiniones)
Releasing the email addresses and phone numbers of the alleged members is worse than only releasing their names. By providing this additional information, it gives people the means to contact — and harass, blackmail and threaten — alleged members. As soon as this information is leaked, the reasonable expectation to privacy for many people disappears.
However, the KKK, a public group with hateful views and actions, should be able to stand behind the reprehensible messages of its protests, rallies and demonstrations. Its members shouldn’t feel uncomfortable standing behind what they believe in, especially if those beliefs are so clearly discriminatory and racist. It would be a different circumstance if Anonymous released information of gun owners, a group of people who do not cause harm to society just based on their existence.
By releasing the contact information for individuals or membership groups that it opposes, Anonymous is adding to the chain of conflict. But is extreme harassment and threatening emails the best way to force a group to resolve or an individual to repent? Inciting more hate isn’t going force a hate group to cease all of their controversial activity forever.
The intentions behind Anonymous’s actions may be good, but it may not always proceed with the best course of actions. However, Anonymous has been known to produce good results in the past. According to Business Insider, the group released incriminating tweets, videos and emails belonging to the accused football players in the Steubenville rape case. In addition, Anonymous was credited with a 2011 campaign against child pornography called Operation DarkNet. This campaign used technology to put pornographers, who typically use technology to hide themselves, out of business.
In their efforts to expose injustice, greed and corruption, the group has even been credited with attacks on a larger scale. According to the article from W3bsecurity, Anonymous hacked into the Department of Justice and stole files pertaining to court cases. The group has even gone so far as to hack the Mexican drug cartels.
Anonymous is capable of doing good things in their effort to provide freedom of information and provide social justice. We acknowledge that they act with the best of intentions, but sometimes their methodology is extreme. In the case of releasing contact information of the KKK, they’re inviting conflict and more hate. Though Anonymous is working toward a greater good, this isn’t the best way to stop groups.
Anonymous has potential to do good things through the right course of action, and their goals prove they have good intentions. “We are Anonymous,” their slogan reads. “We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.” But what do we make of an organization whose good intentions may lead to more conflict, the same thing they try to eradicate?