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HOPE X: Themes and Reflections


Image by Willow Brugh.

Over the weekend, I attended HOPE X, the 10th Hackers on Planet Earth conference, organized by 2600 Magazine. HOPE is my favorite hacker conference, and a strong contender for my favorite conference overall, because although content is tech-heavy, it's not really about technology. HOPE is a conference by and for those interested in the hacker ethos of free information, understanding the world, and empowerment to fix what is broken— including keynote speakers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. So HOPE is a great place to think about the intersection of technology, journalism, and activism. Throughout the conference, I noticed several recurring themes.

Code Is Not Enough

HOPE X: Hackerspace Community Dynamics Meet-Up

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Facilitator: Naomi Most

The goal of this meet up is to take a step back, look at building communities, and talk about what doesn't work, and more importantly what does.

Do you hackerspace?

Most folks here have some experience starting and growing spaces. The rest are interested.

Are hackers normal people? Or are they really different?

We're just like anyone, e.g. baseball fans, who have a particular set of interests.

Hackers are people who question assumptions.

One participant say there's sometimes a "we're better, and we're exclusive" and they're not in favor of that. Much agreement from the group.

A person who wears hacker as a badge on their arm says "I have superpowers" but a person who wears it on their heart says "I have superpowers, you can too."

Hackerspaces in libraries help bridge the gap with people who wouldn't identify as hackers.

HOPE X: When You Are the Adversary

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Quinn Norton

In the past year, there has been a lot of attention towards major adversaries, like the NSA. Most of the time, we're actually up against small adversaries. Most adversaries are just jerks. Small adversaries target everyone, with whatever technology they have. It might be gossip around the water cooler. It might be local law enforcement, or your IT department, in schools, corporations, or NGOs. They're honor killings, partners committing domestic violence, friends who mean well, stalkers who don't mean well, or random interactions.

What are the tools of small adversaries? A common one is making someone give you their password to email, Facebook, etc. Hacker tools can be used in negative ways. The people Quinn works with as a journalist need security tools that work practically, not academically. How do adversaries get access? Usually through email. More and more tools are becoming available. The tools used by small adversaries, are modeled after those used by large ones.

HOPE X: Community Infrastructure for FOSS Projects

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

James Vasile, Open Internet Tools Project

Infrastructure is any mechanism that helps developers and users engage. OpenITP believes that community infrastructure should come from the community. We're used to infrastructure like roads: someone else builds and maintains it. A lot of FOSS projects build their own infrastructure and wind up repeating efforts and not doing a great job of it.

OpenITP tries to find a middle ground between building infrastructure and everyone fending for themselves. They do this by coordinating between projects with similar needs.

Projects need more than just code to succeed:

HOPE X: Ethical Questions and Best Practices for Service Providers in the Post-Snowden Era

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Nicholas Merrill, Calyx Internet Access, @nickcalyx
Ladar Levison, Lavabit
Declan McCullagh, @declanm

FBI Agents asked Ladar to turn over his SSL key. This meant 1. that the SSL key belonged to the provider, not the user; 2. that they would need to decrypt everyone's communication to find what they wee looking for; 3. that was beyond what he felt he could morally do. It was even worse, that he was prevented from telling anyone about the request.

Question: Could you talk to an attorney?

Ladar: Because the request was tied to criminal investigation, I was able to consult an attorney. If it's a classified warrant you need permission from the FBI before contacting a lawyer. He wanted to talk to others to get more information about these types of requests, but he couldn't.

Question: If you start a big company. What do you do when a government agency asks to tap your metadata, you appeal and you lose?

HOPE X: Hacking Money

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Finn Brunton

Begins by saying money is something that you can, and should, hack on. He speculates that the theme of the next century will be "infrastructural struggles for autonomy." Infrastructural: low level standards, licenses, etc. rather than wars. Autonomy: self-government, decentralization, etc. He sees money as one of the primary theaters where this will happen.

What is money? A puzzle. Cowry shell fossils from the Indian Ocean were found in West Africa. How did they get there? They were traded as money. They were an integral part of the West African slave trade. You can't use them for anything with them once you have them, except for use them as jewelry. But jewelry is a high bandwidth signal of social status, used to cement social bonds. We can think of it like a page rank. They represent power, power that can be traded.

The Knights Hospitaller in Malta were granted the right to mint money. They funded military operations by minting coins that could later be redeemed for silver when the fighting was done.

HOPE X: SecureDrop: A WikiLeaks in Every Newsroom

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Garrett Robinson, Security and Privacy Engineer, Mozilla
William Budington, Developer, EFF
Yan Zhu, Technologist, EFF

The Freedom of the Press Foundation processes payments for WikiLeaks and raises funds for encryption and free speech initiatives. Secure Drop is their open source whistleblower platform.

Thomas Drake leaked info on the NSA's Trailblazer program. He was indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage act in 2005. The act wasn't meant to be used on journalists, but that's what it's been used for. In recent years, Shamai Leibowitz, Stephen Kim, Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou, Edward Snowden have been prosecuted. There's an attack on whistleblowers, and there haven't been good tools to communicate with reporters.

HOPE X: Ask the EFF - This Year On the Internet

Liveblogged at HOPE X. The speakers have cautioned that this talk is not legal advice.


Nate Cardozo, Attorney
Kurt Opsahl, Attorney
Adi Kamdar, Activist
Peter Eckersley, Technology Projects Director
Eva Galperin, Global Policy Analyst

It's been a busy year at the EFF. They've been focusing a lot on the national security space over the last year.

Kurt Opsahl works on NSA cases. Jewel v. NSA has been going on since 2008, related to AT&T's involvement with NSA wiretapping. First Unitarian v. NSA is focused on the right of association, and your right to anonymity in who you associate with. Just earlier this week, the EFF and ACLU joined Smith v. Obama. Kurt also works on a case arguing that National Security Letters are unconstitutional and is defending the decision against appeal.

HOPE X: Bless the Cops, and Keep Them Far Away From Us

Livebglogged at HOPE X.

Alex Muentz

Hackers are in the media, but not well understood. Why do hackers expose problems and break things? Hackers are consumer protectors, like Ralph Nader, or Upton Sinclair. Hackers are presented as folk heroes, folk devils, plain criminals, and/or national security threats. The State is using the moral panic over hacking to show force and require new powers.

Most criminals don't get caught. The hackers who are doing public-facing consumer protection are easy targets for prosecution, and receive more.

18 USC 1030/CFAA Bans unauthorized or 'excess of authorized' access to a 'protected computer.' Obtaining information, causing damage, furthering fraud, or procuring others to do so. Results in criminal and civil penalties. The law has no First Amendment or self defense exceptions.

HOPE X: Building an Open Source Cellular Network at Burning Man

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Johnny Diggz, Geeks Without Bounds
Willow Brugh, Geeks Without Bounds

VizThink by Johnny Diggz.

Geeks Without Bounds holds hackathons to match people with skills with humanitarian groups that need those skills. In times of crisis, communication is one of the top priorities. But those channels are usually for "first responders" rather than residents.

Johnny Diggz is a cofounder of Geeks Without Bounds and many tech companies. Most recently he is the Chief Evangelist at Tropo. Willow Brugh is one of our own at the Center for Civic Media, as well as a cofounder of Geeks Without Bounds and an affiliate at the Harvard Berkman Center.

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