news The Australian Federal Police said on Friday afternoon that a 17-year-old youth suspected of being a member of the rogue Internet activist collective ‘Anonymous’ had appeared in Parramatta Children’s Court on charges related to “unauthorised access to computer data”.
‘Anonymous’ is not a formal organisation but is a loose-knit collective of Internet activists who commonly commit denial of service attacks or break into online systems with a view to punishing organisations which they believe are not giving global citizens fair treatment. The organisation has been active in Australia and in targeting Australian organisations for some time.
For example, in September 2010 Anonymous conducted a denial of service attack against the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, which at that stage was involved in a high-profile lawsuit against national broadband provider iiNet. Similarly, in July 2012 Anonymous published some 3.5 gigabytes of data sourced from Australian telco AAPT, in protest against a wide-ranging package of surveillance and data retention reforms currently proposed by the Federal Government. It has also been engaged in attacks against the Federal Government itself.
“A 17-year-old youth appeared in Parramatta Children’s Court on Friday (5 April 2013) to face charges relating to unauthorised access to computer data,” the Australian Federal Police said in a media release issued last week. “The juvenile is suspected to be a member of the online issue motivated group “Anonymous” and allegedly committed serious offences on their behalf.”
Commander Glen McEwen, Manager Cybercrime Operations, said the AFP took any computer intrusion offences very seriously and remained committed to investigating offences that occur in cyberspace.
“Protesting through computer intrusions and website defacements is not an appropriate method to raise public awareness about any issue,” McEwen said. “The AFP investigates various types of cybercrime and will continue to take a strong stance against these perpetrators.”
The AFP executed a search warrant at the youth’s premises in Glenmore Park, NSW in November 2012. The youth was subsequently charged with the following offences: Six counts of unauthorised modification of data to cause impairment, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment; One count of unauthorised access with intent to commit a serious offence, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment; One count of possession of data with intent to commit a computer offence, which carries a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment; and
Twelve counts of unauthorised access to restricted data, which carries a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment. The youth is scheduled to appear again in the Parramatta Children’s Court on 17 May 2013.
The AFP and other Australian police forces have targeted so-called ‘hackers’ on a number of occasions over the past few years for suspected illegal actvitity online. However, the law enforcement authorities have not always been able to lay concrete charges about the activity.
For example, in mid-2009, the Victorian and Australian Federal Police raised a suspected Internet fraudster based in Melbourne, in a high-profile move which was broadcast in a high-profile television episode of the ABC’s Four Corners show. However, six months later the Australian Federal Police was forced to admit that it didn’t intend to actually take any concrete action against the individual, with the raid netting the AFP no ability to make arrests.
As hard this feels to believe to me now (I’m 32 years of age), I was 17 once and getting myself into plenty of low-level trouble poking around on the Internet and the local networks of my school and then university. I suspect a lot of IT-savvy youngsters are like that, and this is always how I’ve seen the Anonymous network; not a really serious criminal organisation, but more like an activist group; using today’s technological tools to make political points and protest against unfair authority rather than creating actual serious damage.
I don’t know what this Sydney youth has done; although I suspect that will come out shortly in their court case. However, what I do know from dealing with it extensively over the past decade is that the Australian Federal Police tends to be a little heavy-handed and not very nuanced in matters relating to “cyber-hacking” and so on. I don’t think the AFP would be inclined to cut this suspected member of ‘Anonymous’ any leniency. The AFP doesn’t usually have much of a sense of humour.
To my mind, however, everyone involved in this situation should keep in mind that this individual is quite young — just 17 years of age. And they haven’t likely been involved in criminal activity for a profit; likely their alleged crimes are ones representing political protect rather than a commercial endeavour.
With this in mind, I hope everyone involved in this case doesn’t get too serious about it. Someone who is a member of ‘Anonymous’ at 17 is very likely an intelligent and sensitive person with great skills and potential — in the long-term, I suspect many young people like this will make excellent, stable and highly societally aware members of the IT industry. Let’s not go too far and cut off their future life before it really begins.