Eclipse Phase | AUSTIN, TEXAS | 2015-2019 A.D.
No countersurveillance diatribe is complete without a nod to the importance of darkcasts. Without these illegal operations, getting to and from habitats would be a much trickier affair. Darkcast setups allow sentinels to egocast to a new habitat, bypass customs, get resleeved, employ a fake ID, do whatever needs to be done, and then upload and bug out safely, with no data trail of coming or going. Nothing is more useful.
Like everything else, darkcasting is not without complications. Most are run by criminal cartels that owe allegiance to no one. Credit is often the defining element of their relationships. This means that they can sometimes be compromised by oppositional elements that bribe them enough to hand over information about their clients’ affairs. This is a rarity, however, as any darkcaster that does so will suffer an immense reputation hit should word of their lack of integrity escape. Nevertheless, it remains a possibility.
Similarly, operatives need to take care that they do not leave a trail back to the darkcast service. If habitat security manages to trace a sentinel back to their origin or exit point, they may be able to trace the operative even further than that. Though most darkcast operations do not keep records or backups of their clients as a precaution, a few unscrupulous cartels have been known to bend their rules out of greed. Even if your darkcaster’s integrity is solid, leading the authorities to their operation can deprive you of a valuable resource.
Ever since the early days of computerized networking and widespread surveillance, transparency and privacy have been hot-button issues with certain small but vocal groups—especially computer nerds, cypherpunks, and civil libertarians. Right up through the Fall, many of these groups remained in the vanguard of raising concerns for debate and discussion, continuing on today albeit sometimes in new forms. Many others do not engage the issues as much as they exploit them, earning notoriety for their distinct approaches to the new panopticon paradigm.
Did your pod morph get puppethacked, forcing you to masturbate furiously in front of an award ceremony crowd? Was your entire fleet of AI-piloted workbots infected with a narcoalgorithm, sparking an impromptu factory floor dance party? Were your romantic private communications with a mercurial lover exposed just in time to ruin your chances at re-election? Was the climax of your vampire MARG infiltrated by a flash mob of pink unicorn avatars with rainbow blasts that burned the highest-level undead characters to ash? Congratulations, you were punked by Anon.
The hacker gang known as Anon is descended from a long lineage of griefer and hacktivist groups, dating back to the earliest decades of the 21st-century internet. Anon is often described as a mob of digital hooligans, and they have been known for mesh-based mischief and pranks that range from harmless and entertaining to damaging and malicious. They are, however, also known to engage in electronic civil disobedience and hacking campaigns for certain causes, particularly in support of leaks, freedom of information, and transparency and against censorship and countersousveillance. Their actions benefit from sheer force of numbers and the anonymity of participants.
Anon is rooted in intentionally informal structures. Anyone can join their online gatherings and chats where anonymity is mandatory. The group operates with a leaderless mob dynamic where operations arise out of causes that organically accrue a critical mass of popular support. In-fighting is common and expected, with Anon groups often splitting over certain issues. The driving force is not politics or ethics, but how many laughs can be derived. Critics note how Anon groups are vulnerable to external memetic manipulation and puppetnet infiltration, though Anon mesh nodes take measures to counteract this.
Though banned and persecuted in many habitats, Anon moots can be found in the hidden corners of almost any local mesh. In the inner system, most authorities consider Anon to be a front for anarchist and criminal operatives—or at best a haven for unruly teens and antisocial delinquents. There is some truth to this, as many autonomist subversives share an ideological affinity with Anon’s causes and participate in Anon operations. Likewise, black hat hackers occasionally take a break from their black market businesses and lend their expertise to Anon ops for fun.
Anon groups can also be found in autonomist habitat mesh nets. Many anti-authoritarians enjoy the autonomy provided by the faceless social interactions in Anon moots, without fear of the impact it might have on their rep, as well as the way it puts everyone on the same level regardless of reputation. Some autonomists dislike how it enables social action without accountability, and there is also concern that hypercorp agents may take advantage of autonomist Anon groupings as a shield for their sabotage efforts.
The secretive members of Datacide believe that current-day mesh databases go too far in compiling and correlating the private information of individuals. Dedicated to promoting privacy, this hacker crew focuses on infiltrating and sabotaging mesh archives, particularly those that are private, commercial, and not subject to oversight. Their favorite targets include consumer marketing databases, private ID information providers, and private intelligence and data collection firms. Datacide attempts to permanently erase stored data when possible, also sabotaging the archive servers. Given that these databases are often backed up with redundant archives, Datacide has become particularly skilled at writing exploits and programs that infiltrate a system, linger for months or years to spread into all possible backups, and then strike all at once to eradicate both the full database and recent archives.
Conceding that the battle to stop documentation of people’s private details and lives was a lost one, the Decepticons have taken a different approach: make this data unreliable. Decepticon hackers work hard to penetrate mesh databases and seed false information. They have released numerous worms and trojans into the wild with the sole purposes of gaining access to archives, selecting random entries, and replacing the data with autogenerated material (similar enough to pass, but false). Some of these worms are sophisticated enough that they defeat the autocorrecting and fact-checking features and AIs used by some databases to keep their material accurate. The Decepticons do not stop with selective alterations, however. They have also initiated automated networks to scrape real identities and personal details from various sources that are then used to register new accounts and customer transactions, except this time adding new false data alongside the correct details, to better pass as authentic. They have also been known to completely fabricate identities, news, and events, seeding the mesh with details on people and things that never actually existed. Though the cabal of Decepticon hackers is believed to be small, the AIs they employ to fabricate photo, video, and other sensor recordings and data are quite sophisticated. More than one major news outfit has been forced to retract reports after being fooled by Decepticon-seeded fake data. Likewise, many random people have found their lives made more difficult by the seeding of data that they cannot disprove, deny, or remove.
Ego Union is a civil rights advocacy group that campaigns on behalf of forks. They hold the simple position that alpha, beta, and even delta forks are each individual and sapient persons and should be treated with full equality (they also support personhood status for AIs). According to the Ego Union argument, forks diverge from their originating ego the moment they are separated. They strictly oppose non-voluntary merging. The union has been involved in some high-profile cases where forks attempted to seek asylum, emancipation, or even protection from deletion.
Considered a terrorist group in the Jovian Republic and a few other jurisdictions, Ego Union supporters have been linked to a reported “underground railroad” that supplies forks with new identities and darkcast passage to a station more supportive of fork independence.
ELECTRONIC FUTURE FOUNDATION
Descended from a group that defended civil liberties in the early days of network computing, the Electronic Future Foundation (EFF) continues to raise public awareness and promote legislation and policies that protect privacy, promote transparency, and protect people’s rights when it comes to the mesh and digital activities. They are close allies of the argonauts, with significant overlap between the groups. The EFF is known to operate anonymization, crypto-cred, and other privacy enhancement projects. Currently they are one of the leaders in the fight against indentured servitude and to release infugee egos kept in offline storage or locked in restrictive simulspaces/systems. They also battle against digital restrictions on nanofabrication, restrictive fork laws, and the criminalization of AIs and AGIs.
Hive Mind is a volunteer data verification network. Its members crowdsource efforts to fact-check online sources, squash mesh rumors, debunk urban legends, rate the accuracy of government and hypercorp claims, validate scientific papers, and verify real-time newsfeeds. Hive Mind accuracy ratings are considered the final say by many people. Hive Mind is also responsible for maintaining and updating numerous online resources, including the Solarchive project, the Earth Information Repository, WikiNews, the Galactic Vid Archive, and similar encyclopedic information sources. Though Hive Mind projects occasionally suffer from vandalism, seeding of false data, or claims of non-professionalism, they have shown a remarkable ability to self-correct and are often considered more reliable and less biased than official and professional sources.
Many organizations have come and gone over the decades that sought to provide a public outlet for whistleblowers to post their insider information anonymously and without fear of persecution. Thanks to henchmen rewards, the need for leaks outlets in some jurisdictions has passed. In polities where the government, military, and hypercorp elites are still evading transparency, however, Mesh Leaks remains a powerful equalizer, exposing the elites’ lies and lack of ethics. Though many other leaks-dedicated groups exist, Mesh Leaks is the most well known and respected, in part because they have the infrastructure to adequately protect their sources. Despite being illegal and favored on censorship blacklists, Mesh Leaks is quite adept at circumventing efforts to silence their newsfeeds as well as avoiding persecution.
Mesh Leaks archives exist as mirrored, decentralized sites, often linked together via dedicated darknet VPN connections. The specific leak archives are kept distinctly separate from submission points. The channels provided for people to submit information are heavily encrypted and set up to automatically anonymize the sender. These input points are also temporary, closing down and popping up elsewhere on the mesh, in order to avoid blockades or attempts to undermine the process.
Submitted material is carefully analyzed, scraped of identifying metadata, and verified by a legion of volunteers before being released. On occasion, Mesh Leaks has recruited help from the likes of the argonauts or even Hive Mind to help verify data. Mesh Leaks continues to have a somewhat hostile relationship with hypercorp media outlets. To the leakers, the media are co-opted and quite literally owned and so simply aren’t doing their job. The media consider the leakers to be dangerous amateurs and criminals tainted by anarchist ideology, but at the same time they cannot afford to ignore their impact.
Mesh Leaks has at times been supported by Anon, the EFF, argonauts, and other transparency advocates. There has been criticism of leaks that endangered people or spread information concerning the TITANs. Mesh Leaks strives to avoid taking specific ideological stances, but various smaller anti-secrecy groups pursue whistleblowing in accordance with a particular agenda. Examples include MarsLeaks (anti-hypercorp, pro-Barsoomian items), ExoLeaks (coverage of gatecrashing and extrasolar exploitation), and Unnatural (anti-tech bioconservative bent).
The Source bills itself as decentralized journalism, by the people and for the people. The Source uses low-cost options to establish itself as a newsfeed via the mesh. Anyone can contribute news to the Source, in the form of live feeds, recordings, or other media. The submissions process is crowdsourced, with volunteers and AIs combing through and rating new input. The highest-rated pieces are elevated to the Source’s primary newsfeed channels. Submissions are also contextually tagged for people’s personal muse news filters to more easily sort out the material that most interests them.
Despite being a largely volunteer, ad hoc, noncommercial operation, the Source often competes with mainstream newsfeeds and aggregators (much to the chagrin of various media hypercorps). The Source has occasionally been tainted with falsified news items (blamed on both Anon and the Decepticons), and is criticized for its vulnerability to outsiders gaming its submission ratings system.
Spinternet is a professional outfit of mesh memetic mercenaries. Spinternet personnel include a cadre of elite hackers, equipped with massive puppetnets and other online propaganda resources. These mercs sell their services to interested parties and then engage their opponents in online memetic warfare. Hypercorps use the likes of Spinternet to counter leaks and other smear campaigns. Politicians bring these digital warriors in for astroturf campaigns, making it seem like they have a larger groundswell of support while viciously undermining their opponents. Spinternet has even been successful in derailing Anon campaigns in certain habitats. Though many similar hypercorp outfits exist, Spinternet is widely regarded as the most effective.