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For Feds and DEF CON, the Party’s Over…For Now

News that the annual DEF CON hacking convention has barred U.S. government officials from attending the event—a first in its 21-year history—is just one more example of fraying trust and fallout from last month’s NSA surveillance disclosures.

The event brings together some of the brightest minds—from hackers to privacy advocates to artists—and is often a place where U.S. government officials can recruit folks for its intelligence programs, or as ZDNet’s Violet Blue writes, “a place where hackers, security researchers, corporate recruiters, digital frontier legal eagles and law enforcement have mingled and boozed it up on noncombatant territory.”

Well, not this year, at least.

Jeff Moss, the conference’s founder and advisor to the Department of Homeland Security, writing under the name The Dark Tangent posted this on the DEF CON website:

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

Which raises this question: What will come next? With disintegrating trust and increased division between cybergurus and the federal government, what will this mean for privacy? Will this simply breed more mistrust and division?

Government officials will be at the corresponding Black Hat conference and General Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency, will keynote. At last year’s DEF CON conference Alexander told attendees that it was “nonsense” the NSA was compiling dossiers on Americans (this was prior to the Snowden leaks). And Alexander will reportedly take audience questions at this year’s event, which will be interesting to hear.

Similarly, rather than ask government types not to come, should DEF CON instead demand that they come and account for themselves? Isn't this a chance to clear the air and call them to the carpet?

The government could use the help of these experts—there are a lot of bad guys out there—but, understandably, after denials that seem hollow after the Snowden disclosures, the “spirit of openness, verified trust and mutual respect” has been tucked away.

Hopefully, the party’s on hold only temporarily, because an atmosphere of mistrust tends to replicate itself—and that’s not good for anybody.

photo credit: RobotSkirts via photopin cc

Written By

Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/E, CIPP/US


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