As usual, Richard Stallman gets to the point.
Calling these protests DDoS, or distributed denial of service, attacks is misleading, too. A DDoS attack is done with thousands of ‘zombie’ computers. Typically, somebody breaks the security of those computers (often with a virus) and takes remote control of them, then rigs them up as a ‘botnet’ to do in unison whatever he directs (in this case, to overload a server). The Anonymous protesters’ computers are not zombies; presumably they are being individually operated.
No – the proper comparison is with the crowds that descended last week on Topshop stores. They didn’t break into the stores or take any goods from them, but they sure caused a nuisance for the owner, Philip Green. I wouldn’t like it one bit if my store (supposing I had one) were the target of a large protest. Amazon and MasterCard don’t like it either, and their clients were probably annoyed. Those who hoped to buy at Topshop on the day of the protest may have been annoyed too.
The internet cannot function if websites are frequently blocked by crowds, just as a city cannot function if its streets are constantly full by protesters. But before you advocate a crackdown on internet protests, consider what they are protesting: on the internet, users have no rights. As the WikiLeaks case has demonstrated, what we do online, we do on sufferance.
In the physical world, we have the right to print and sell books. Anyone trying to stop us would need to go to court. That right is weak in the UK (consider superinjunctions), but at least it exists. However, to set up a website we need the co-operation of a domain name company, an ISP, and often a hosting company, any of which can be pressured to cut us off. In the US, no law explicitly establishes this precarity. Rather, it is embodied in contracts that we have allowed those companies to establish as normal. It is as if we all lived in rented rooms and landlords could evict anyone at a moment’s notice…