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lunes, 27 de diciembre de 2010

2010: The Year the Internet Went to War

It was a year without parallel. Threat Level’s bread-and-butter themes of censorship, hacking, security, privacy, copyright and cyberwar were all represented in tug-of-war struggles with unprecedented outcomes.

Google defeated China’s censors, but caved to corporate censorship in the United States. The largest computer-crime case ever prosecuted ended in the nation’s longest prison term. A small-time Xbox modder who advertised his services online beat the federal rap. And a mysterious computer virus called Stuxnet finally put proof to decades of warnings that malware will eventually be used to kinetic effect in the real world.

A myriad of court decisions seemed to be a boon for online rights, while others clearly were a step backward. The year 2010 saw the rise of the newspaper copyright troll, and judges pushed back on absurd jury verdicts for music file sharing and outdated electronic spying rules.

And a secret-spilling website flirting with insolvency and dissolution suddenly burst onto the world stage. WikiLeaks was without a doubt the biggest 2010 development in Threat Level’s world.
WikiLeaks Takes On World Powers

As the year began, the project appeared to be on its last legs — just another cypherpunk fever dream destined for the same dustbin as digital cash and assassination politics. Site founder Julian Assange had abandoned the wiki portion of the concept, after crowds of volunteer analysts failed to congeal around WikiLeaks’ impressive, but not yet explosive, trove.

Bradley Manning as he appeared in his Facebook photo.

Assange also experimented with auctioning early access to leaks for news outlets, without immediate success. By January, the site had hit financial bankruptcy, and its homepage and archive were replaced by a public plea for donations.

Then came Bradley Manning, a disaffected 22-year-old Army intelligence officer who wanted “people to see the truth.” With one disturbing video and nearly a million leaked U.S. documents later, WikiLeaks had raised more than $1.2 million, and ignited a battle over the meaning of journalism, national security and censorship.

The WikiLeaks saga began in earnest with the April release of the “Collateral Murder” video showing more than a dozen people in Iraq being killed in three U.S. Apache helicopter attacks.

Victims included two Reuters employees, one carrying a camera that was apparently mistaken for a weapon. The partial release of 92,000 reports from the war in Afghanistan followed in July. Then came 400,000 Iraq war reports in October, and finally the slow, steady disclosure of 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables that kicked off just after Thanksgiving.

The "Collateral Murder" scene shortly after the 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Iraq was exposed by WikiLeaks.

Along the way, Manning was arrested and locked away in a Marine brig. A war broke out within WikiLeaks’ ranks. And Assange became the subject of a U.S. grand jury investigation that may have broad ramifications for the First Amendment.

The State Department said Assange’s publication of U.S. diplomatic cables was “illegal.” But Assange bills WikiLeaks as a media organization, and no media outlet has ever been prosecuted for publishing classified information in the United States.
WikiLeaks and the Future

Yet more is at stake than Assange’s freedom and the future of WikiLeaks. The site has shown us that the right to maintain a presence on the internet regularly runs counter to the net’s gatekeepers that often are motivated by profit.

As the New Year approached, WikiLeaks was caught scrambling to maintain its online presence and financial pipeline. Amazon cut off its web hosting, and PayPal, Visa, MasterCard and Bank of America blocked donations to the organization. Apple even banned an iPhone app designed to facilitate access to Wikileaks’ cache of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.

“A lot of really important stuff happened this year that forces us to begin to think about that there are so many people who depend on private companies to enjoy the fruits of technology,” said Cindy Cohn, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal director. “If the private company stands up for us we have rights, and if it doesn’t, we don’t.”

Springing to WikiLeaks’ defense were the pranksters and activists known as Anonymous, who overwhelmed the websites of WikiLeaks’ enemies — real and perceived — with junk internet traffic in coordinated attacks dubbed Operation Payback. A more constructive protest grew from the grassroots, with supporters volunteering their own websites to host mirrors of WikiLeaks’ “Cablegate” page, ensuring it can never be removed from the web.

More than anything, the online protests exposed a generational struggle for the heart and soul of the net. It’s a high-stakes conflict between corporations that have grown fat and powerful off the web over nearly two decades and the first generation to grow up with the modern internet as a daily element in their lives.

Both sides believe the internet belongs to them. If history is a guide, it would be unwise to bet against the kids over the establishment.

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