In an age when net neutrality is under attack, personal information is anything but personal and identity theft is on the rise, “hacktivism” (the practice of hacking an organization’s data pools in order to draw attention to a social or political issue or gain information to advance such a cause) presents itself as a force for good on the Internet.
Perhaps most famously among the hacktivists is the group known as Anonymous, an informal association of hackers from around the world who go by various online aliases to conceal their actual identity. Targets from Anonymous have included the Church of Scientology, Sarah Palin, Sony and, most recently, the KKK. Just last year, Business Insider ran an article praising a number of the hacks perpetrated by Anonymous, including those against white supremacist Hal Turner, Westboro Baptist Church, child pornography sites and the Ugandan government.
The social-justice strain to these efforts raises the question: is hacking in and of itself morally objectionable? And is there a place for hacking among Christians?
Our initial reaction might be, “No, of course not.” Romans 13 immediately comes to mind, where Paul admonishes the Roman assemblage to submit to the governing authorities since they derive their authority from God. If hacking is illegal, or at least legally questionable, this would seem to issue a resounding “no.” Paul and the early Christians were not, however, opposed to civil disobedience of every form. The early preaching of the apostles in Acts is a fine example of this. When the apostles were commanded to cease proclaiming Jesus and His good news, they ignored the officials and continued anyway, leading to beatings, imprisonments and threats of (and in some cases actual) death. So the New Testament itself provides Christians with a loophole when obedience to authorities requires disobedience to God.
Perhaps it is this line of thinking that has caused some Christians to support and even participate in their own forms of hacktivism. In fact, a Vatican spokesperson just a few years ago praised Christian hackers for demonstrating God’s own creativity in their work, though also acknowledging problems with the anti-authority attitude present in most hacking communities.
What’s more, some forms of hacktivism do not necessarily do harm to a site, organization or individuals. We might equate “take down” attacks, in which a site is flooded so that its servers crash and its services are thus unavailable to the public, to the “sit in” protest. The services or “space,” so to speak, are disrupted in order to draw attention to a particular social issue. Here no data is stolen, information comprised or destruction done to the organization’s infrastructure.
Perhaps a better question we might ask concerning “Christian hackers” is whether or not their activity advances the Kingdom of God in a morally neutral manner. In other words, is the work truly Kingdom work, furthering the good news, performed in a manner that does not create a moral fuzz around that furtherance? It is perhaps here that our evaluation of Christian hacktivism should focus. This does not mean that social justice causes cannot be embraced by Christians, but we should subordinate the extent to which we consider those activities as “missional” under the central mission of the Church, which is to live as God’s people, demonstrating and proclaiming the good news. Doing one without the other does not follow the pattern expressed throughout the New Testament.