More documents from Edward Snowden have revealed how British spies went after the hacktivist group Anonymous.
Britain’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), which is similar to the NSA, ran an operation called Rolling Thunder, which involved a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against the IRC rooms that Anonymous members frequented. JTRIG also tried to pose as members of the hacktivist group to figure out who had taken personal data. The documents released were also the first time the JTRIG’s presence became public.
“Targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs,” said Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill who teaches anthropology, as well as an author of a book about Anonymous that has yet to be released. “Some have rallied around the name to engage in digital civil disobedience, but nothing remotely resembling terrorism. The majority of those embrace the idea primarily for ordinary political expression.”
On the other side is Michael Leiter, who used to be in charge of the US National Counterterrorism Center, who believes that despite the fact that people shouldn’t be targets because of their political beliefs, they should still be able to go after cyber criminals.
“While there must of course be limitations, law enforcement and intelligence officials must be able to pursue individuals who are going far beyond speech and into the realm of breaking the law: defacing and stealing private property that happens to be online,” Leiter said to NBC News. “No one should be targeted for speech or thoughts, but there is no reason law enforcement officials should unilaterally declare law breakers safe in the online environment.”