The organizer of Def Con posted this to their website, main page front and center:
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.
This will give everybody time to think about how we got here, and what comes next.
The Dark Tangent
I’d like to point out two important things:
- Tangent references the vague and ubitquitous ‘feds’
- Tangent calls for feds to ‘opt out’ of Def Con voluntarily.
Ostensibly, Tangent feels that the ‘fed’ component of the Def Con community has made the other parts of that community uncomfortable. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in the world right now. Much of it directly affects our community. Much of it inspires strong emotions, and that in turn can cause people to act a bit irrationally. None of us are immune to that. We’re human beings, and incentives drive us. Emotion is a powerful incentive.
Now, the first major issue I take with Tangent’s statement is tied into that first point. The use of the ubiquitous ‘feds’. As Def Con has a ‘spot the fed’ contest, there is a well defined criteria as to what constitutes a ‘fed’ as far as Def Con is concerned. So, I believe Tangent either made a gross mistake in communicating his point, or he’s managed to lump the entirety of the US Government, civil servants, and contractors alike, into one big boat. He’s then basically declared them aggressors to Def Con and it’s 15000 person attendeeship community.
Well, simply put, fuck that. There’s a hell of a lot of people working in or for the Federal Government. And to be blunt, most of them have jack shit to do with NSA’s illegal wiretapping. Most of those folks, are perfectly fine and decent human beings. Many of them are patriotic as hell. Many of them are proud to put their meager earnings into an EFF membership. An EFF shirt or sticker was a fairly common sight at the research facility I worked out of. So, the language of this very official and very public statement right off the bat takes broad generalizations and uses it to slather general disrespect for a huge part of the Def Con community. And that’s abjectly insulting to a bunch of good people.
Today is the third birthday of OpenStack. A project started, in part at NASA, by hackers just like me. Friends, and co-workers worked for several years building and open sourcing code for the entire hacker community. Hell, I’ve spoken at Def Con, while being considered by some to be a ‘fed’. I know many people, even in the infosec and intelligence components of our federal government who are good people. They are EFF members, and open source contributors. They are an integral and loved part of our community whether people realize it or not. There are hackers all over our federal government and state governments right now opening up more data, increasing transparency. There are hackers reaching out to our community trying to engage us to help them solve really important problems, such as asteroid and debris tracking. Or providing third world nations with access to our resources and tools for weather analysis. Predicting the pathes of tornados and hurricanes. Our communities ability to overcome barriers and simply be hackers with each other saves lives. It’s one of the things we as hackers can, and should be truly proud of.
Basically Dark Tangent just told me the awesome people I’ve worked with, and the awesome co-workers I admire and respect are ‘shit listed’. And truthfully, that makes me more than a little angry. But, because I am an adult, I accept that the world is unfair. However, because I am also an adult, I know that what Tangent has suggested is utterly juvenile, and more importantly detrimental to our community, and our federal government.
Which brings me to my second point of contention. This is a moment in our nations history when a great deal is at stake. The last thing our community needs at this moment is balkanization, and bridge burning. If we really want to change the way our government approaches security, and intelligence gathering, no group is better positioned to open a truly positive and beneficial dialogue than the Def Con community. This is an opportunity for us to converse, and debate as a civilized people. And instead we have the organizer of the conference publicly burning bridges, and stating his hope that, that simply does not happen. That’s tragic.
We’re hackers. All of us. Fed, State, Non-profit, Money loving entrepeneurs, we’re all hackers. That has always been one great defining aspect of our community. Def Con has been one of the most successful commons of the people who wear the moniquer of ‘hacker’ proudly. It truly is a place where people of every background can meet, exchange ideas, and grow as hackers, and as people. And suggestions that some part of that greater community should simply excise itself is a betrayal of everything that Def Con has become over it’s 20 plus years. And I figured it warranted a public note of dissent. So here, it is, my dissent:
Friends, or whatever you consider yourself, I invite you to Def Con. You can be my personal guest. And truthfully, I think you are pretty awesome for taking a job that is a service to our country. I want to learn from you, and I want you to be able to ask me anything you want. I want to buy you a beer, and just be fellow hackers for a bit. I want you to know that you are a part of this community, and Dark Tangent can be utterly damned if he thinks otherwise.
See you at Fed Con!