Are the most powerful people in the world shadowy figures from the computer underworld whose only location is an IP address?
It sounds like something Neal Stephenson or Vernor Vinge would use as a plot element, but a self-proclaimed leader of the hacking group Anonymous told a reporter for the Montreal Gazette that it’s absolutely true. Of course, Christopher Doyon, AKA Commander X, appears to be homeless and is a fugitive from American justice who skipped bail in the U.S. after being arrested last September. Anonymous itself happens to have suffered significant arrests in 2011 and more recently.
Still, Doyon told the Gazette:
there’s a really good argument at this point that we might well be the most powerful organization on Earth. The entire world right now is run by information. Our entire world is being controlled and operated by tiny invisible 1s and 0s that are flashing through the air and flashing through the wires around us. So if that’s what controls our world, ask yourself who controls the 1s and the 0s? It’s the geeks and computer hackers of the world.
Doyon also said that Anonymous has 50,000 members, and has access to every U.S. government database.
Anonymous is prone to bold claims, and Doyon himself likes to be dramatic. He wore a Guy Fawkes mask to the interview, though mugshots from his arraignment in Santa Cruz, California, have been available online since last year. He traveled via a modern-day hacker Underground Railroad to get to Canada, apparently to a safe house somewhere near Montreal.
Doyon disputed that he was a terrorist, unless of course you’re in “the one percent.” He says ordinary people have no reason to fear Anonymous. But the powerful do. Perhaps. A companion piece in the Gazette charts the rise of “hacktivism” and points out that despite its cyber prowess Anonymous is limited in making change happen.
Doyon acknowledges that he himself is in a tight space. He says Canada won’t let him stay permanently, and he is trying to negotiate asylum in an unnamed European nation. Apparently, he can’t just hack in and create what he needs to travel freely to other places.
Gawker took Anonymous and Doyon to task in its own interview with the 47-year-old hacktivist, in which he claims to be the Supreme Commander of the Peoples Liberation Front, a long-running hackers initiative.
As Gawker puts it:
With memories of otheroutlandishly false claims previously made by Anonymous, we asked Commander X for some more details. Over Skype he spoke about the database claim and fleeing the U.S., from his outpost at a Canadian coffee shop. With nothing but Commander X’s word, you can judge for yourself.
Whether or not you buy Doyon’s claims, the interview does raise some important questions: Can disclosing information be a form of terror? Who should control data about individuals? What does the public deserve to know about what its government is doing? Do databases represent the balance of power in the modern world? Can a loose group of geeks (let’s call them information anarchists) really hold an axe over the head of the powerful and mighty, a modern-day mouse that roars? Or, like that piece of satire, is Doyon just spinning a story he — and Anonymous — wishes were true?