Illustration by Celia Fong
Illustration by Celia Fong

A group claiming to be part of Anonymous, the international cyber hacking organization, has launched #OpRight2Rest against the City of Sacramento in response to the anti-camping ordinance targeting houseless individuals outside City Hall. While Anonymous’ threats are surprising in themselves, Sacramento’s response to the threats is definitely concerning.

Anonymous’ strategy to elicit change is problematic in itself, and the group of cyber vigilantes have catalyzed discourse about the legality and righteousness of anti-camping bans, not only in the City of Sacramento, but across the state.

This “operation” so far has consisted of threats from an alleged Anonymous YouTube account, with two videos demanding the ordinance prohibiting camping in public spaces to be reconsidered.

A similar incident with Anonymous took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in December 2014. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the hacking group disabled the city’s website for hours after a refusal to eliminate laws that restrict activity of people who are houseless. In the following month, Fort Lauderdale spent $430,000 on computer security. This money — while small compared to the large-scale issue of the problem — could feed and clothe a large percentage of the over  2,600 houseless individuals in Sacramento County.

Although shutting down city websites is just an inconvenience, releasing personal information is a much larger issue. While much of the information appears to be either publicly accessible or incorrect, Sacramento City Council members’ home addresses and phone numbers were posted online on Monday. It’s not proven Anonymous posted the original leak, but the group shared the link on social media and has done this type of leak often in the past.

Security expenditures against these tactics are not, however, guaranteed effective. Anonymous is notorious for using techniques like distributed denial-of-service security breaches to bring down target websites. Such attacks utilize compromised computers around the world to flood a server with traffic, causing a particular website to crash because of the high volume. Distribution-style cyberattacks are surely worrisome, as they are both difficult to execute and very expensive to protect against.

Media representatives from Sacramento’s City Council were unable to comment regarding recorded costs for internet security. However, if the city decides to invest in this level of cyber security for the long-term, it will be at the cost of the houseless community. The immediate allocation of so much money for a data breach shows where the city’s true priorities are. Those same funds, if Sacramento heeded the demands made by hackers, could have gone to improved or increased facilities for houseless individuals.

Change by intimidation is not necessarily ideal, yet the challenge that Anonymous has posed showed an ugly side of city council, exposing it as inappropriately handling issues of houselessness.

In response to the threat, city councilman Steve Hansen told the Sacramento Bee that “we can’t allow people to camp in alleys, to urinate and defecate wherever they want. We want to solve the problem [of houselessness], but we have to maintain the peace.”

Assuming that the entire houseless population will “urinate and defecate” wherever they want is unacceptable. It seems that councilman Hansen does not regard the houseless population as people, but rather as animals that cannot help but soil wherever they please while also inherently disturbing the peace.

Likewise, it’s comments like these — especially when made by a government official — that force the houseless population to become further alienated by society. Many of Sacramento’s houseless shelters are overcrowded or inaccessible for those with disabilities, and thus inviable for some houseless individuals. Denying individuals sleep just because of where it occurs infringes on rights guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Sleeping is a life sustaining activity so if a person has nowhere else to go then they must resort to sleeping on the streets. No-camping laws that refuse them this right is a cruel and unusual punishment for being houseless, plain and simple.

Sacramento is not only denying the houseless basic necessity of sleep, but also othering them from the community itself instead of finding alternative solutions to a problem.