Over the next few years we all began to learn the practical difficulties of walking around with a 'virtual' flag attached to your head saying, "I am a subversive, please surveil me."
More interestingly this affected different people associated with the collective in different ways – and certainly those who routinely practised the most advanced counter-surveillance were probably affected the least.
At the end of 2001 we launched our analysis of the new wave of anti-terror legislation – Occasional Paper No.5, The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. In 2002 we followed this up with Occasional Paper No.6, The Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill, which highlighted how changes to computer us legislation further restricted people's rights to on-line assembly.
Practically though, it was like talking into a vacuum!
We were getting nowhere because the mainstream media didn't want to provide any contrary analytical coverage of the Afghan (and later Iraq) war issue.
At the same time, in the background, our "covert" work with human rights and protest groups was developing brilliantly. We saw a very simple decision before us: Do we keep trying to pry open the door of on-line activism, which had now been firmly welded shut; or do we work to our strengths and make a real difference amongst people who not only needed the help, but were desperate for it.
We were all travelling at the time to carry out this work, and some of us were travelling to the USA, which were rumoured to be operating covert black prisons. At this time we were informed by "a security source" that if we ever popped into US territory the FBI or NSA might be interested in interviewing us.
It didn't take long to decide the course we needed to take – in July 2002 we issued a communiqué announcing our intention to "'disband to infiltrate' and grow the online activism network".
What did that mean? (as we're often asked!):
We're all long-term campaigners; we know that progress ebbs and flows. That's why it's called a "movement" – history is not a gradual process of negotiated change but rather a punctuated evolution of events and trends.
If you are really a merchant/agent for change, there are times when you have to be patient and wait for your moment to return again.
Those who worked around the electrohippies construct continued to share information and ideas, but we re-invested them into our own projects with civil society groups – for example, The Container Project, which utilized ideas first evolved in electrohippie workshops in order to teach people how to use the Internet without an actual Internet connection.
We did re-emerge, briefly, in 2003 to mark the Iraq War. Our focus was on the UK and US government, but on Tony Blair in particular. We mounted an action that took down the Downing Street web site, forcing them to re-locate the site to a far more powerful server – an event covered by a few media outlets, such as Computer Weekly and PCWorld (later deleted), but not many more.
Probably the most important aspect of our work that many people (especially itinerant hackers/crackers) fail to grasp is that taking down sites or hijacking services is not what motivates our actions. Computers, electronic networks and code a merely tools that enable us to draw attention to real-world problems that we're interested in – but in terms of what we actually do in our 'hacktivist' work, the media barely cover but a few percent of it.
We're not hacking for the sake of it; we're acting for a purpose. If you lose sight of the real world, and real social conditions and injustices, then you will lose your own humanity to "the borg".