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Cyber-Activists Strike At WTO’s Seattle Summit

Cyber-Activists Strike At The Wto’s Seattle Conference

see the electrohippies website at:
http://www.gn.apc.org/pmhp/ehippies/

Internet activism makes it's first public outing from the Britain TODAY. A group of environmental activists, computer programmers and Internet specialists will, for the next 4 days, run a 'virtual action' dedicated to disrupting or even closing the World Trade Organisations (WTO's) websites. The group - who operate under the working title of 'the electrohippies collective' [1] - have developed a special website so that people around the world who wish to protest about the WTO's Seattle Conference can take part in a 'virtual sit-in'. This is the first action of its type to be developed in the UK [2], and hopefully will be the first event in a new campaign that will target electronic communications and information technology in the UK and Europe.

The action begins at 4pm GMT today (that's 8am Pacific Time in the Western USA where the conference is taking place) and will run until December 5th. But the group are asking people to concentrate on accessing the web pages from 6pm GMT on December 3rd in order to coincide with the issuing of the final communiqué and the closing of the conference.

The group have decided to take action against the WTO's Seattle Conference as their contribution to the global action that is taking place to mark the event. However, there are more complex issues raised by the action. Especially the role of politicians in ushering in the new global economy without any regard or consultation with their citizens regarding the potentially damaging effects on employment and commodity markets. These are considered the information pack [3] developed by the group. At the heart of conventional forms of protest is the ability to go to the place where decisions are being made and hold demonstrations or pickets. In the case of global conferences that is difficult - although many activists from around the world have made the trip to Seattle. What the electrohippies have done it to transpose the tactics of real-world campaigning to cyberspace by staging 'virtual sit-in' for the Seattle Conference. In conventional sit-ins people try to occupy gateways or buildings. In a virtual sit-in people from around the globe can occupy the gateway to the WTO's web servers. In this way we hope to block the flow of information from the conference - which is significant because it will cement proposals to expand globalisation in the 21st Century.

The group have developed a special website for the event, that is located within the Free Range Activism Website [4]. The website contains pages that use a special programming language developed for the World-Wide-Web called Javascript. By accessing the WTO's websites using these Javascript-based pages you are in effect accessing repeatedly - as if you were pressing the 'reload' button on your browser every few seconds. The ability of a web server to handle these requests depends on its bandwidth - that's the physical capacity to move data in and out. For most servers bandwidth is split. Usually there is only a small proportion of the bandwidth devoted to data coming into the site compared to data going out (this is because much more data flows out of web servers than flows in). So, constantly requesting information puts pressure on it's weakest point - it's incoming bandwidth.

Using these pages to send multiple requests queues up requests to the web server. Ordinarily this is not a problem. But, if the server is busy, or there are many people across the world using this same site to do the same thing, it starts to eat up the server's bandwidth. If enough people were to do the same thing, it would prevent the server from being accessed. Eventually, if maintained for a longer period of time, it would temporarily crash the server.

The spokesperson for the group, Paul Mobbs [5], who hosts the web pages as part of his larger Free Range Activism Website, said of the action:

The Internet is a military experiment that the state has lost control. Today we can use the power of that system for people all over the globe to join together and protest the insane policies being developed by the political elite and global corporations. Many politicians in this country talk about sovereignty. Today, through institutions like the World Trade Organisation, sovereign states do not have the power to carry out policies that are in the interest of their people. We only have to see the recent actions of the WTO in relation to bananas and genetically modified crops to see that. We are providing the means for ordinary people to affect the Seattle Conference. By clogging-up their web servers they will find it very difficult to distribute their propaganda on the new global economic order. It is only a small action. But it is symbolic of people's resistance to the expansion of economic policies that do nothing for the world's poorest nations, whilst at the same time causing damage to the world's environment. In relation to the potential for future activities Mr. Mobbs said:

This is a first small step in the development of electronic activism and electronic civil disobedience [6] in the UK and Europe. We hope to take the ideas originated in the USA and develop them within the European context. Electronic communications and the Internet represent a new 'space' within society that we have to utilise as we would the street or the council chamber. We hope to make available tools for ordinary people to do this themselves. The web pages that will enable the public to take-action against the Seattle Conference will be uploaded at 00.01 on Tuesday November 30th. As the action progresses updates will be made not only to indicate the levels of activity on the website, but also to indicate where 'mirror sites' - copies of the web pages set up to broaden the base of the action - have been set up around the world.

For more information contact Paul Mobbs on 01295 261864 (phone/answer-phone/fax) To view the electrohippies website go to http://www.gn.apc.org/pmhp/ehippies

Notes for editors: the electrohippies are a small group of computer specialists and environmental campaigners who have come together to promote the philosophy of 'electronic civil disobedience' in the UK. The name comes from a discussion within the group where as a joke someone said that we'd be called a 'load of electrical hippies' by the media - and the name stuck. It is not a group in the formal sense, but rather a 'collective' of people who work together remotely via the Internet to develop the tools necessary to promote electronic activism. Because of their positions in the information technology industry most of the contributors to the collective are having to remain anonymous.

The tactic of 'virtual sit-ins' was developed by supporters of the Zapatista Indians in Mexico. In fact, the US-based supporters of the Zapatista's have led the way in the development of electronic and Internet activism. We hope to take these tools and develop them further for use in the UK and European context. Especially the European context as this will help remedy the democratic deficit that exists between the institutions of the European Union and its citizens.

The information pack is a short guide to electronic activism, the history of electronic civil disobedience and the origins of the virtual action against the WTO. It will be available from the group's website from 00.01 on Tuesday 30th November.

The Free Range Activism Website started in May 1996. It aims to empower people by showing how and where to find information for campaigning. The site is designed for those with limited budgets and older slower equipment; software and hardware requirements are low. There are few graphics, and every page is manually 'tuned' to keep it as small as possible. The site currently holds 50 megabytes of information - making it one of the biggest independent campaign websites in the UK oriented towards community groups. Much of the content of the site is official reports and information from government departments. Many of these publications are very expensive for ordinary people to buy - but the site makes them freely available. Paul Mobbs, who is part of the electrohippie collective, developed the Free Range Activism site, as well as creating the web pages for the electrohippies site. To access the site go to http://www.gn.apc.org/pmhp/

Paul Mobbs is an independent environmental consultant - based in Banbury, Oxfordshire - who works for small businesses, community groups and local authorities across the UK. He has been running his business for the last 10 years. As well as his professional work he assists with many voluntary campaigns on environmental and social issues. The Free Range Activism Website was developed to assist this purpose. His work with the collective is an extension of that commitment to enabling ordinary people to access and effect the decision-making process in local and national government.

The concept of electronic civil disobedience has been developed, by activists such as Stefan Wray, to support the Zapatista movement. But since that time has taken on a whole new dimension in providing a means of lobbying and taking-action against government and corporations in the USA. For more information see The Electronic Disturbance Theatre's electronic civil disobedience archive at http://www.nyu.edu/projects/wray/ecd.html By bringing the tactics of electronic activism and electronic civil disobedience to the UK and Europe the group hopes to develop the resources for campaign groups here to make up the deficit in community based campaigning today. That is a lack of tools and opportunities to take-action against government and corporations in the new global community - cyberspace.

For further background information we would suggest you view the following websites:

The World Trade Organisation - http://www.wto.org/

The Seattle Conference website: http://heva.wto-ministerial.org/

Electronic Disturbance Theatre: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/wray/ecd.html

The November 30th website: http://www.seattlewto.org/n30/ (main website devoted to the global anti-WTO campaign)

END

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