"Big Brother is watching you" was the warning given to citizens of Oceania in George Orwell's novel 1984. The phrase has since become a watchword for intrusive surveillance, especially by government and law enforcement.
How ironic it would be if the purportedly anarchistic and pro-Internet-freedom hacktivist underground was using Big Brother techniques against private citizens. That's just what seems to be happening, according to reports that Th3 Consortium -- another head of the Anonymous-LulzSec hydra -- has been snooping on pornography consumption by government employees.
Anonymous, LulzSec, and their friends and supporters have been vociferous in their criticism of government "snoops (and) busybodies" and militant "fighters for Internet freedom." Some have seen a "disconnect" between Anonymous's "ardent pursuit of 'opening up' governments and private corporations by seemingly any means necessary, and the same supporters outrage at actions by the same governments and corporations that impinge on 'ordinary' citizens right to personal privacy." But this seems much less contradictory than hacktivist conduct, which threatens to expose ordinary citizens.
Th3 Consortium's specialty thus far seems to be hacking porn sites -- specifically three Websites owned by the Luxembourg IT company Manwin. The hackers' latest haul reportedly includes membership details of 70,000 users of Digital Playground, including credit card information. But Th3 Consortium isn't in it for the money -- this is not conventional cybercrime.
Rather more creepily, Th3 Consortium noted that "there was no shortage of .mil and .gov e-mails in their user list." In fact, it seems there were relatively few such addresses on the list -- but the number hardly matters. After all, what are the hackers trying to tell us? That government workers or members of the military watch pornography? Hardly surprising. That they register for these sites using their work emails? Depressingly stupid, but again, hardly a shock.
Or are the freedom-loving hacktivists implying, nastily, that government employees might be exposed as porn consumers as a result of these exploits? We've recently seen MegaUpload's Kim Dotcom proclaiming that DoJ, DoH, and even RIAA employees had been downloading illegal content over BitTorrent.
Taking Dotcom's comments at face value, he at least has a point. If people actively engaged in the campaign against piracy have been happily opening the popcorn in front of stolen episodes of Dexter, then they are at best hypocrites, at worst engaged in illegal conduct themselves.
Watching pornography online is a rather different matter. Whatever one's personal attitude to the subject, consumption by adults is generally legal. Using a .gov email address to register for a site is stupid, and may well be against departmental rules, but that's about it.
Of course, Th3 Consortium is probably just having mean fun, just for the "lulz." But the thought of pro-freedom hackers exposing private individuals' browsing habits has me thinking of another George Orwell novel, Animal Farm:
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution