The marriage of convenience (some might say a temporary truce) between Feds and hackers – organized at the annual DEF CON conference – simply couldn’t survive in our current geopolitical environment. And the hackers want a divorce – the Feds will not be at DEF CON this year.
Since 1993, an assortment of IT professionals, hobbyists, tinkers, DIYers, academics, journalists, and Feds have gathered in Las Vegas each year to discuss the science and culture of hacking. DEF CON (a reference to the military’s defense readiness condition) is one of the world’s largest hacking conventions and often explores secures vulnerabilities, phone phreaking, hardware “tinkering” (a nice way of saying vandalism), and other pertinent topics.
Feds have used the conference to recruit skilled IT professionals into various security apparatuses and government programs, and the alliance between sworn enemies – law and order vs. anarchy – has always been shaky. In 2012, the NSA director, Keith B. Alexander, gave the keynote speech, and was asked the following:
“Does the NSA really keep a file on everyone, and if so, how can I see mine?”
“Our job is foreign intelligence … those who would want to weave the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people, is absolutely false…From my perspective, this is absolute nonsense.”
*cue dramatic foreshadowing*
Since then, we’ve all heard about former NSA employee Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding PRISM, a comprehensive domestic spying program. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Conference founder Jeff Moss, aka The Dark Tangent, wrote the following in a recent blog post entitled “Feds, we need some time apart”:
“For over two decades DEF CON has been an open nexus of hacker culture, a place where seasoned pros, hackers, academics, and feds can meet, share ideas and party on neutral territory. Our community operates in the spirit of openness, verified trust, and mutual respect.
When it comes to sharing and socializing with feds, recent revelations have made many in the community uncomfortable about this relationship. Therefore, I think it would be best for everyone involved if the feds call a "time-out" and not attend DEF CON this year.”
Can you really blame Mr. Tangent? Over the last 6-7 years (some would say earlier), the Feds have gone to extraordinary lengths to snoop and keep tabs on the citizenry. This violates the spirit of DEF CON and precludes a free nation that respects individual liberty.
Score one to the hackers.