Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse
The Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse refers to those who use the internet to facilitate crime, or (pejoratively) to rhetorical approaches evoking such criminals.
The phrase is a play on Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There does not appear to be a universally agreed definition of who the Horsemen are, but they are usually listed as terrorists, drug dealers, pedophiles/child molesters, and organized crime. One of the most famous definitions is in the Cypherpunk FAQ, which states:
8.3.4. "How will privacy and anonymity be attacked?"
- like so many other "computer hacker" items, as a tool for the "Four Horsemen": drug-dealers, money-launderers, terrorists, and pedophiles.
17.5.7. "What limits on the Net are being proposed?"
- Newspapers are complaining about the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse:
- terrorists, pedophiles, drug dealers, and money launderers
Other sources use slightly different descriptions but generally refer to similar activities.
The term was coined by Timothy C. May in 1988. May referred to "child pornographers, terrorists, drug dealers, etc.". May used the phrase to express disdain for what he perceived as "Think of the children" argumentation by government officials and others seeking to justify limiting civilian use of cryptography tools. Connotations related to such argumentation continue to be attached to the phrase, and it is more commonly used by those who wish to deride various restrictions on Internet activity than by those who support such restrictions.
Examples of "Four Horsemen" Argumentation
The four supposed threats may be used all at once or individually, depending on the circumstances:
In 2015, the UK Conservative party claimed that their proposed “new communications data legislation will strengthen our ability to disrupt terrorist plots, criminal networks and organised child grooming gangs”, echoing the "child pornographers, terrorists, drug dealers, etc." quote of Timothy C. May.
Later in 2015, Gamma Group released a statement claiming that their surveillance technology is used "against terrorist threats, drug cartels, other major organised crime, and paedophile rings." as justification for concerns that it was being used to target opposition politicians and media groups in Uganda. With money-laundering treated as a major organised crime, this quote matches very closely with the list given in the Cypherpunk FAQ.
- May, Timothy C. (1994-09-10). "§8.3.4. How will privacy and anonymity be attacked?". Cypherpunk FAQ.
- Carey, Robert; Jacquelyn Burkell (August 2007). "Revisiting the Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse: Representations of anonymity and the Internet in Canadian newspapers". First Monday. 12 (8).
- ScrewMaster (2008-08-19). "Re:The devil is in the details". Judge Rules Man Cannot Be Forced To Decrypt HD. Slashdot.
- Gayle, Damien. "Right to privacy 'could be meaningless in 10 years under Tory and Labour plans'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
- Nick Hopkins; Jake Morris. "UK firm's surveillance kit 'used to crush Uganda opposition'". BBC News. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
- Bernal, Javier (1999-08-06). "Big Brother is On-line: Public and Private Security in the Internet". Cybersociology Magazine.
- McCullagh, Declan (2007-10-11). "McCullagh's Law: When politicians invoke the do-this-or-Americans-will-die argument". News.com. CNET Networks, Inc.
- Grossman, Wendy M. (2004-02-27). "eCrimes of the century". The Inquirer.
- Doctorow, Cory (10 October 2014). "Crypto wars redux: why the FBI's desire to unlock your private life must be resisted". The Guardian.