September 8th, 2011
By Parmy Olson, Forbes
How do authorities stop real-time chatter between suspected web insurgents? With great difficulty it seems.
Four young men who stand accused of taking part in cyber attacks with the hacktivist collective Anonymous, avoided stricter bail sentences today, which might have blocked them from accessing social networking site Twitter and video messaging site TinyChat.
All four of the men, who were arrested in December 2010 and January 2011, were already on bail and banned from accessing Internet Relay Chat (IRC) networks, a popular channel for communicating among supporters of Anonymous, a nebulous collective of web activists and pranksters. Many of the infamous “ops” carried out by Anonymous to attack websites for companies like MasterCard, Visa and PayPal, were organized in chat rooms on these networks.
However prosecutors asked a judge this morning to strengthen the suspects’ bail conditions, and ban them from accessing other Internet services that allow “real-time” communication. “Anonymous as a group continues to be active,” prosecutor Russel Tyner said during the hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court. “It is clear that IRC is not the sole means by which members can communicate.” He added that police had become aware just the night before that one of the accused had “used a form of communication called Twitter… and a video chat service called TinyChat.”
Judge Caroline Tubb agreed with lawyers for the four defendants, who argued the new conditions were unnecessary and “unenforceable.” But she did tighten their bail conditions by denying them the right to use their old online nicknames. This means one of them cannot use his real first name online.
The four accused are:
- Peter David-Gibson, aged 20 from Hartlepool, who went by the online nickname “Peter”
- Christopher Weatherhead, aged 20 from Northampton, who went by the nickname “Nerdo”
- Ashley Rhodes, aged 26 from London, who went by the nickname “NikonElite”
- A 17-year-old student who cannot be named for legal reasons
All four stood together in the dock, Gibson wearing a grey suit and Rhodes in a shirt and vest, as Judge Tubbs told them they had to refrain from “any form of Internet activity using [their] particular nicknames.” She added that banning them from other forms of “real-time” chat on the Internet would “not be enforceable.”
The four men must appear again before Southwark Crown Court on Nov. 18 for a plea and directions hearing.
They are among several people arrested in the U.K. in recent months in connection with a police investigation into Anonymous and its smaller splinter group, LulzSec. Last week two other men in their 20s were arrested in the British towns of Warminster and Doncaster as part of that investigation; police suspected they also had connections to a core member of LulzSec who used the online nickname “Kayla.”