Quick reminder: hacktivists aren't terrorists

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It was injustice enough when Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to ten years in federal prison for his involvement in the famed LulzSec hack of private intelligence firm Stratfor in late 2012. The hacker and anarchist took part in a hack that produced what was arguably crucial public interest information on major multinational corporations.


His lengthy sentence, the result of a plea bargain, seemed another example of US government aggression in its draconian treatment of cybercrime. Just a few months after Hammond learned his fate in federal court, young technologist Aaron Swartz would hang himself while potentially facing decades in jail for essentially little more than downloading too many academic articles from the digital library, JSTOR.

Now, leaked documents reveal that Hammond was also covertly categorized as a potential terrorist by the US government.


A leaked document, obtained by the Daily Dot, shows that even before his arrest, Hammond was listed as a "possible terrorist organization member" on an FBI watchlist known as the Terrorist Screening Database. Hammond didn't face terror charges, but the fact that he was already being profiled is concerning enough.

Hammond is known as a hacktivist, and for good reason: the illegal activity he admitted to taking part in was not for the benefit of one government over another, nor corporate espionage, or even just for the Lulz. Hammond's work is in the service of social justice, which all too often does not align with the vagaries of criminal justice.

Thanks to the Stratfor hack, we know that the Department of Homeland Security employed the firm to spy on Occupy activists, that Dow Chemicals had a private intelligence company follow individuals seeking restitution for the Bhopal disaster, and that Statfor spied on PETA activists for Coca Cola.

I'm not the first to mention that Hammond's inclusion on a terror watchlist reflects the sprawling application of the term "terror" by the US government. When considering who gets to be a terrorist by the government's lights, it's always important to consider who or what is potentially terrorized by this individual or group.


The answer in Hammond's case is shady corporate intelligence, multinational companies, and government agencies (and the troubling intersection of the three). The only realistic terror Hammond presented was the intent to reveal truths about these nexuses of power. Which may well be terrifying to them, but is a service to the rest of us. Meanwhile, the real terrorized party in this case is Hammond, who sits behind bars in at federal facility in Manchester, Kentucky, one year in to a ten-year sentence.

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