IRC networks have hosted hundreds of thousands of users discussing every topic imaginable for over two decades. QuakeNet has grown to be one of the largest and we have a diverse base of users connecting from all corners of the globe. Despite the relatively recent dominance of the large social networks IRC maintains its position as a highly relevant and popular platform for free communication, free idea sharing and free expression.

Many of our users are notably technologically capable and started at a young age sharing and learning by using IRC as their open communications platform. Without many internet users even knowing IRC networks exist it is likely that IRC networks have played a key role in shaping the internet itself as well as the people that help develop the technologies behind the internet. All of the large IRC networks operate on a non-profit, sponsor-led basis. There is no central corporate body in the background pulling the strings.

As with all open communities on the internet there are occasions when QuakeNet have had users who have broken laws. In these situations we remove the users in question and if their abuse is serious enough we refer them to their ISP. In very rare and extreme situations we have contacted or been contacted by law enforcement agencies and provided our co-operation. This is a sane, widely understood and accepted escalation of abuse management that is mirrored on many IRC networks as well as most sensibly run social platforms on the internet.

Yesterday we learned in the latest release of documents from Edward Snowden and reported by Glenn Greenwald with the NBC investigations team that GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, are performing persistent social and technological attacks against IRC networks. These attacks are performed without informing the networks and are targeted at users associated with politically motivated movements such as "Anonymous". While QuakeNet does not condone or endorse and actively forbids any illegal activity on its servers we encourage discussion on all topics including political and social commentary. It is apparent now that engaging in such topics with an opinion contrary to that of the intelligence agencies is sufficient to make people a target for monitoring, coercion and denial of access to communications platforms.

The released documents depict GCHQ operatives engaging in social engineering of IRC users to entrap themselves by encouraging the target to leak details about their location as well as wholesale attacks on the IRC servers hosting the network. These attacks bring down the IRC network entirely affecting every user on the network as well as the company hosting the server. The collateral damage and numbers of innocent people and companies affected by these forms of attack can be huge and it is highly illegal in many jurisdictions including the UK under the Computer Misuse Act.

Many of the charges being thrown at IRC users associated with the Anonymous movement are now clear to be identical to the actions of the agency itself. People charged with organising DDoS attacks on the servers of large companies while in secret GCHQ are issuing DDoS attacks against IRC networks who may be unaware of the actions of a tiny subset of their users. Actions, that if such intelligence agencies were not given total impunity, would be prosecutable and result in the multi-year incarcerations of their agents that we have seen of internet users.

There is a clear need for governments to be able to hold internet users accountable for their actions if they are engaged in performing or supporting illegal activities. There are well understood and structured legal frameworks in place to find, prosecute and punish such offenders. If the forward march of technology creates new avenues for crimes that are not covered by existing laws then new laws should proposed, discussed and approved in public by elected representatives of the people. This is not a suggestion, this is the law and no-one should be above it.

The actions of GCHQ are grossly hypocritical. Their actions lower themselves to that of the criminals they are abusing, most of whom are overly eager teenagers. Their attacks have had significant collateral damage to the IRC networks they have launched assaults on, the innocent companies hosting the IRC servers targeted and companies hosting the unwitting source of the DDoS attacks. Civil actions launched by the companies affected by the government sponsored DDoS attacks are now probable and will waste further taxpayer funds, funds that should be put to far greater use than abusing law-abiding companies that would comply with legal requests if they were instructed to.

We urge the British government to initiate an immediate and thorough public investigation into the actions of GCHQ and to assure users, companies and communities who rely on the internet that they are safe from being accidentally targeted by the broad, oppressive and legally grey hammer of agencies under their control.

Thank you.

The QuakeNet IRC Network administrators and staff

Sources:

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