Atari Teenage Riot's Alec Empire interviews “AnonyOps” from online hacktivist group Anonymous
Last year I was contacted online by some Anonymous activists regarding the Atari Teenage Riot song “Black Flags”. We collaborated on a viral video project that became a document of activism around the globe from the past six months. People sent in material from student protests in Chile, the Occupy movement, Anonymous and activists in Japan demonstrating against Tepco, the corporation responsible for the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.
When we received exclusive footage from WikiLeaks of Julian Assange speaking at Occupy London, we turned the third edit into a donation video for WikiLeaks, because it has been under attack by the big financial service companies for months.
Last autumn ATR toured the USA and I had the chance to meet many Anonymous activists in person. I have met quite a few people who were passionate about their political views in my life but every single individual I met in relation with Anonymous inspired me. These were people who saved lives of other activists in oppressed countries like Syria, Egypt and Iran and didn’t even want to take credit as an individual for those actions, see their name in the papers, be praised as a hero. Nobody in Anonymous even thinks about becoming a leader of the movement, which has grown so powerful over the past years. I found this very inspiring, especially because I work in music where people literally would do anything, even humiliate themselves on national TV, to become famous.
AnonyOps runs many websites and Twitter accounts and is very active in all kinds of Anonymous operations.
Alec Empire: Can you please introduce yourself? When and why did you get involved with Anonymous?
AnonyOps: I am a card-carrying, mask-wearing member of Anonymous. I got involved with the movement back in December 2010, when the US government started a full-court press war against WikiLeaks. When they decided to pressure US companies into issuing a financial blockade, I started foaming at the mouth. This kind of censorship must not stand, especially when what is being censored is the truth. Imagine the US Government asking Visa, MasterCard and PayPal to stop allowing financial transactions for The New York Times or The Guardian. WikiLeaks, essentially, is a press organisation and coordinates with The Guardian, The New York Times and other news agencies for editorial guidance. That any government would act in a way to censor their speech is an affront to all free societies.
Alec Empire: Why does privacy and being anonymous matter in a world where everybody wants to be a star, and seems to be willing to do anything to get that attention?
AnonyOps: In an increasingly digital world, privacy is something easily overlooked and underappreciated, but think about how easy it was to obtain privacy centuries ago. All one had to do is close a door and speak in hushed tones. It was reasonable to expect that your conversations were private. Today, not so much. Governments are increasingly taking liberties with our freedoms and exploiting every technological tool they have to make sure that our conversations online and offline aren’t private. When you take notice of all the killings in the Middle East and reprisals against activist bloggers for merely trying to raise awareness of human rights abuses, it should make your blood boil. If your government could get away with doing the same to you, it would. Surveillance technology should be more accurately called ‘spying technology’. When governments spy on you, you don’t know who has access to the information, who might use it, and how they might ruin your life in the process. Our privacy is important. Domestic spying kills our speech, and sometimes paints those of us who are vocal as ‘cyber criminals’. We should not allow governments to do this to us.
Alec Empire: Do you listen to music? When Anonymous hackers attack do they like to listen to music in the background? Does this even matter?
AnonyOps: You bet I do. I’m mostly in the zone when I’m coding and when I’m in the zone I want to listen to music. My mood, or the mood I want to be in, will determine my choice of music. My tastes vary wildly. I like Stravinsky, Debussy, Bon Iver, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Marilyn Manson and a ton of stuff in between (and yes, definitely Atari Teenage Riot).
Alec Empire: To my surprise, the majority of the music world has been completely indifferent to (these topics). Atari Teenage Riot had a record censored by the German authorities a few years ago. Why do you think censorship is something that should concern everyone, especially musicians and music fans who might not even be interested that much in politics?
AnonyOps: When we can’t communicate, we can’t organise. If we can’t organise, we can’t resist. If we can’t resist, we will be slaves. We need to be free to criticise what we don’t like. We don’t have to like what someone is saying to understand how important it is that they be allowed to freely express their dissent. Censorship stops that. It quiets dissent, and values conformity over critical thinking. If we aren’t free to express ourselves, we aren’t free.
Alec Empire: What do you think about all these new laws that are being put in place around the globe right now? Sopa (the US Stop Online Piracy Act), Acta (the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and all the variations of them in various countries? I was shocked that almost everyone I spoke to in the independent music industry welcomes those laws.
AnonyOps: The companies pushing for laws like Sopa and Acta are trying to protect their profits, but these laws aren’t really about protecting intellectual property. They’re about making sweeping laws that give governments broad powers to take down anyone’s website and/or business.
New communications technologies have always been a threat to people and institutions in power; they have responded with repression and restriction. It took 100 years for kings to clamp down on the printing press, and 30 years from the invention of radio to the creation of the Federal Communications Commission at the behest of the US Navy and commercial broadcasters. We forget how young the internet is – most of us have only had access for 15 years. We believe that because it’s always been open, it always will be.
We’re losing our ability to communicate, and all the while governments are attempting policy laundering. They recycle the same tired, unpopular bills and this happens because corporations are only too happy to fill the pockets of politicians. Acta, for example, has been characterised by an astounding lack of transparency, negotiated in secret while excluding civil society and non-government organisations. For many years, we only knew what was in the Acta text because of WikiLeaks.
In short, this shit is bad news. We need a new paradigm in politics. One where we demand transparency, and when we find that backroom deals are done, we kick them out on their asses. We need public will in our favour for this to happen.
Alec Empire: I thought of pirate radio in the UK in the early 90s. I had my first record deal back then and we recorded in London. At night we would listen to pirate radio – yes, that was before it was easy to stream music via the internet. Huge raves were happening in the country at the time and because the major record labels weren’t a part of that the official radio stations weren’t, even though so many kids were listening to this music. Most of the records DJs played were distributed on white labels, and there was a lot of ‘copyright violation’ because sampling technology offered so many news ways to manipulate sounds, beats, voices, basically everything. Another reason why most radio stations could or wouldn’t play it. Most producers of those records stayed in fact anonymous.
Two decades later, nobody can deny that those times were key to what followed. Pop music wouldn’t be where it is today without that huge influence of early rave and electronic music. So the enemy of the major record labels back then became their life saviour. Because the majors had to adapt. What I am trying to get at here is that isn’t it true that when the time has come for an idea that will bring change, nobody can stop that? Not even a country’s army?
AnonyOps: Fascinating, isn’t it? When people are free to copy, share, borrow, parody, mix, etc, creativity is free to do its thing without the person having to worry about the legal ramifications. It used to be nice as a musician to simply borrow from another musician. Jazz musicians are even applauded for doing this during performances. If they ‘take a page’ from another song and integrate it into their solos, it’s usually a crowd-pleaser. If they had to get legal approval for all the things that just come to them spontaneously they wouldn’t be spontaneous, and they’d be far less willing to pay homage to past artists in their own music. When we are free to share and enjoy art without worrying about intellectual property, it spawns interest and more creativity from the next generation of musicians, writers and directors.
The interview is taken from the June issue of Dazed & Confused
We'll be chatting with Alec Empire and AnonyOps over Twitter today! Follow @dazedmagazine and @An0n_DAZED_atrD and keep an eye on #HACKED to join the conversation.