Cyber Vigilantism: Ashley Madison hackers attack your personal liberty

We now live in a world where we not only have to fear the limiting of personal freedom and liberty by the government, but also by cyber vigilantism. Today, we are talking about married people having affairs with those they find online. Tomorrow, it may be the public shaming of women who had abortions. It is not only about the Ashley Madison website being attacked, or people’s personal business spread across the internet. This is an attack on civil liberties.

Cyber Vigilantism
Greyerbaby / Pixabay

It is being reported hackers have fulfilled their promise to publish the data and personal details of over a million users from website AshleyMadison.com, an online dating service and social networking service marketed to people who are married or in a committed relationship. 

Tuesday, hackers had claimed to have published a huge store of data, including email addresses and credit card data that was stolen in July. Wired magazine reported the total was 9.7 gigabytes of data, dumped on an encrypted section of the internet that requires special software to use, and is only accessible through a Tor browser.

The group, identifying themselves as “Impact Team,” had threatened to expose user data from Ashley Madison, and a sister-site called Established Men, unless Avid Life Media did not take down both sites. They made good on the threat.

We are all Ashley Madison

The hackers’ objective was to impose their own personal sense of morality on all of us, and this is just an example of what may come. This was an attack on personal freedom and liberty.

Cyber vigilantism may now appear, to religious extremists and others, as an effective tool to restrict liberties such as the freedom of conscience, freedom of press, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression.

Cyber vigilantism, with a few keystrokes, can limit your right to security and liberty, your freedom of speech, and your right to privacy. This is an attack on civil liberties, human rights, and the very foundation of Democratic Civilization.

Cyber Vigilantism & You

Today, we are talking about cheaters, on a website for cheaters, who have been exposed as the dirty dogs that they are. It is very easy to be unsympathetic. However, think where cyber vigilantism could lead us.

Imagine hackers threatening to use anything and everything from public shaming to identity theft in order to get you that change the way you behave. This goes well beyond outing a bunch of adulterers. If they don’t like your political views, your religion, or even just something you have to say, cyber vigilantes can literally destroy your life.

The intrusion into the private lives of individuals is a turning point in cyber crime. These are not criminals motivated by greed. They are terrorists motivated by a self-righteous ideology, that compels them to inflict their personal idea of right and wrong on the rest of us, at a very personal and private level.

Don’t be fooled!

When Ashley Madison was first attacked, I read many commentaries hoping the website would be taken down. This hack and exposure of personal information is not about cheating spouses, secret sexual fantasies, or nude photos. It is about control.

We must acknowledge this criminal behavior for what is it, an attack on personal freedom and individual liberty. We can not close our eyes to it, sympathize with it, or try to justify it.

The witch-hunts ended in America by the mid-17th century. Our democracy is based on personal liberty and a right to privacy. If there is no privacy, liberty cannot exist. Our supreme priority should always be to uphold the values of being free, within society, from oppressive restrictions imposed by others on one’s way of life.

It should give us pride that sites like Ashley Madison can and do exist, and that we do not live in a society which moral overseers or religious police get to inflict punishment for personal behavior. It is what makes us better than the Islamic State or the Taliban, who show contempt for free choice or thought. We must stand on the side of freedom and liberty.