'Anonymous' Hacker Group Threatens Sacramento, Calif., for Anti-Camping Ordinance

The city of Sacramento is at the center of a video warning presumably posted by the hacker group Anonymous regarding an anti-camping ordinance targeting the homeless.

The city of Sacramento, Calif., is at the center of a video warning presumably posted by the hacker group Anonymous regarding an anti-camping ordinance aimed at the homeless Jan. 6.

In the roughly three-minute video, shown below, a masked figure claiming to represent the group said the city would face the “formidable talents” of its hackers unless the ordinance disallowing camping in public spaces was reconsidered. 

Though the reported cases of Anonymous targeting local governments are relatively few, cities and counties nationwide have experienced similar threats over the last few years: In November of 2013, a Missouri town was singled out for the way it handled the rape investigation of two teenage girls; in December of 2014, the city of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s website was targeted due to laws passed around homeless behavior; and in mid-May of 2015, the Hancock County, Miss., Department of Human Services was included among threats made by the group as it pushed for reform in child protection agencies and family courts.

Experts are divided as to whether many of the actions publicized are sanctioned by an official group, or whether they're part of multiple groups independently acting under the moniker of “Anonymous.”

“It has come to our attention that you continue to deny the homeless of your city their basic human rights guaranteed by Amendment Eight of the United States Constitution…,” the figure says in the video to Sacramento.

Looking beyond local government

In mid-December of 2015, a video similar to the one aimed at Sacramento warned presidential hopeful Donald Trump about his statements on closing America’s borders to Muslims. Following the warning, the Washington Post reports that a website for Trump Towers was taken offline for about an hour. 

The hacktivist group also took aim at the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- commonly known as ISIS, ISIL and IS -- following the Nov. 13, 2015 attack on Paris, France.

The well-publicized likeness wearing a Guy Fawkes mask went on to call for a 60-day moratorium on the enforcement of the ordinance to give stakeholders an opportunity to come up with more productive solutions to the situation.

In recent weeks, protesters camping outside of Sacramento City Hall have faced arrest and citation. A press release posted by the city Jan. 7 said that the rights of protesters were recognized, but that city laws needed to be enforced.

“Recently, a group has been protesting the city’s ordinance prohibiting camping on public or private property. While the city recognizes the First Amendment right of protesters, the city also has an obligation to enforce laws involving the protection of public health and safety,” the release reads. “Allowing camping on public or private property is not a solution to ending homelessness. It’s not safe and it’s not sanitary. We are continuing to work with our partners and the community to find ways of ending homelessness.”

Though the city’s efforts to provide social services to the area's homeless were recognized in the video, the masked figure points to more work to be done.

“Therefore, we ask politely that a moratorium on enforcement of the ‘do not rest statute’ be imposed while interested parties negotiate a solution. During this 60-day period a good faith effort will be made to accommodate the homeless in your city,” the figure said. “We applaud the efforts you have made to provide for some of your homeless population. There is more work to be done. Should you decide that our request is untenable or refuse to honor it, we will bring the formidable talent of Anonymous to your city. We would prefer to work on solutions. You have our attention…”

The heavily digitized voice went on to say that “Operation Right to Rest” was now in effect.

As with many Internet-based threats, the validity of the video has not been confirmed, but it is being investigated, according to city technology officials.

“As you are aware, YouTube videos have been posted from a group claiming to be 'Anonymous,' an online activist group," Sacramento CIO Maria MacGunigal told Government Technology via email. "The videos are directed toward the city’s camping ordinance and the current protest taking place outside City Hall. The Police Department is aware of the video and has been investigating its origin and the person(s) who might be responsible for it. City IT, as well as Public Safety IT, are aware of the threat and are taking all appropriate precautions to protect city information systems.”

A representative for the Sacramento Police Department said officials are continuing to monitor city websites and are taking the threat to infrastructure seriously.

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.