Two decades on, I haven't talked with Phil Zimmerman, but I want to thank him for keeping a young, overly emotional kid from having a prison record (assuming that would have been the outcome). I'm still a passionate advocate for many causes, but my activities are limited to the legal avenues.
I've spent my entire career fighting online criminals, and I'll likely retire that way. I make a good living fighting the good fight, but I still commit occasional mistakes. I'm imperfect, and I have regrets. I'm thankful that I can say I've never done anything illegal online or hacked anyone who didn't give me the legitimate authorization to do so. I'm glad that when a potential employer asks if I've ever been arrested that the answer is no. Most prospective employers don't want to hear a long, drawn-out excuse about how social justice pushed you to obtain a felony conviction.
Anonymous members, if you continue doing illegal hacking, in all likelihood some of you will be caught and arrested. Perhaps the wheels of justice make that a given already. Many of your names are already known by several people in positions of authority, and no doubt your online activities are being tracked. Although you probably think the feds are clueless idiots, they merely move slowly. It takes time to get court orders and to collect evidence in a way that holds up to judicial scrutiny.
I respectfully ask that members of Anonymous refrain from illegal activities. You have a stronger chance of changing society forever by leaving behind the veil of anonymity and working within the constraints of the laws, even if you don't always agree with the rules and the unfair balance of power.
When you engage in illegal activities, you lose a lot of your most powerful defenders and supporters. The rule of law creates a baseline civility necessary for progress. Cross that line one too many times and you risk being marginalized simply as a common criminal. More important, you can't do any good if you're sitting in a prison cell caged like an animal -- and this is likely to happen to at least a few members of your group. When the headlines are gone, some of you will probably be sitting behind bars with only a very few people to ever visit. You've caught the public attention you wanted. That attention, and the embarrassment it has caused to powerful entities, will likely also undo Anonymous.
There is more power in lawful and peaceful disagreement. Think of the figures that will go down in history as strongest and most influential resistance movement leaders we know: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and more.
Many of the members of your group appear to be bright and well meaning, but the ends do not justify the means. Illegality is illegality no matter why it is committed. Instead I hope that you'll take your knowledge and talents and focus them on positive and legal avenues. I can imagine all the energy and passion put toward helping others, without risk of imprisonment.
You may be offended by my letter, but I hope it reaches you in the same way Phil Zimmerman reached me before I made a mistake that could have abruptly ruined my life.
Roger A. Grimes
This story, "Open letter to Anonymous group: Right fight, wrong approach," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest developments in network security and read more of Roger Grimes' Security Adviser blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.