Why DDoS Attacks Are NOT Analogous to Sit Ins

If you don’t read Evgeny Morozov, you should.  That said, I strongly disagree with his take on the moral implications of Wikileaks inspired Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS) (which are a way that hacktivists can easily overload a website server and effectively take it off line.)  Here’s Morozov:

I don’t think that their attacks are necessarily illegal or immoral. As long as they don’t break into other people’s computers, launching DDoS should not be treated as a crime by default; we have to think about the particular circumstances in which such attacks are launched and their targets. I like to think of DDoS as equivalents of sit-ins: both aim at briefly disrupting a service or an institution in order to make a point. As long as we don’t criminalize all sit-ins, I don’t think we should aim at criminalizing all DDoS.

I am inclined to disagree. It seems to me that the fundamental difference between a “sit in” or similar forms of civil disobedience is that a DDoS attack is a form of censorship. If a group of hacktivists don’t like what someone has to say, they simply shut down his/her website.

Don’t like the Klu Klux Klan?  Shut down the website. Don’t like the Tea Party? Take down its servers.  You think Human Rights Watch was unfairly critical of the Sri Lankan military in a recent report?  Organize a cadre to force HRW to spend lots of money getting its site back online.

To be sure,  there are probably certain exceptional circumstances when a DDoS attack is justified. (Say, something analogous to Radio Mille Collins, which was a Rwandan radio station that broadcast the names and addresses of people for Hutu militants to target. If Hutu militants had easy access to crisis mapping platforms, presumably the slaughter could have been even more efficient.)  Still, this should be a very narrow exception to the simple rule that DDOS attacks are a form of censorship.

Frankly, what I think we need is to create some sort of normative prohibition against DDoS Attacks.  If you believe that people have a fundamental right to free expression — regardless of the opinions expressed — then it seems the human rights community ought to be up in arms about digital hordes coordinating attacks that shut down websites.

What do you think?