H2K: Hacker Activism Alive and Well
A dominant theme at h2k was how
hackers are working to create social change. Jello Biafra's stirring
keynote speech on Saturday echoed many of the anti-corporate
sentiments of the crowd. In a panel discussion Saturday, Jello
expressed his support for new technologies for bringing musicians
and fans closer together, and proposed the possibility of a "fair
trade" online music industry, where musicians would be guaranteed
a fair piece of proceeds from online music sales. According
to Jello, the greed of mega-corporate media has resulted in inflated
music prices (and merchandising) but not benefited artists.
Hackers heard from experts in virtually all areas of hackerdom.
Sessions ranged from viruses, to robotics, to lockpicking. Several
sessions addressed phone phreaking, and Sunday's "Social Engineering"
panel featured a live demonstration of Emmanuel Goldstein calling
AT&T's corporate security, followed by a live call-in from Kevin
Jon Johansen and his father led a session detailing their experiences
at the hands of Norwegian authorities under pressure from the MPAA.
Johansen said that he was one of the authors of DeCSS. When asked by
an audience member whether he sought permission from the MPAA before
starting to reverse-engineer the CSS, the enigmatic Jon said, "I
didn't know I needed to ask permission to use a DVD I had legally
purchased." That's telling 'em!
RMS gave an intimate talk on his experiences, as well. In a tye-dyed
shirt and threadbare socks, he was in classic RMS form. The CDC performed a shortened (and
slightly modified) version of Romeo and Juliet, and updated us on some
recent and planned activities. Many well-known and lesser-known
hackers, geeks and others (from ex-spys to CEOs) shared their
knowledge and answered questions.
A highlight of the conference was a mock trial. Emmanuel was wheeled
into the "courtroom" bound, gagged and trussed to a hand truck, in
true Hannibal Lecter style. After only 10 minutes of deliberation,
the jury returned a Not Guilty verdict, absolving Emmanuel (publisher
of 2600 Magazine, sponsors of the
conference) of liability for violating the DMCA. The audience roared
with applause. We can only hope for such a rapid and positive
outcome from the real MPAA v. Goldstein trial.
Another highlight was the first screening of "Freedom Downtime," a
documentary produced by 2600 that addressed the excesses of the court
system and the media in dealing with Kevin Mitnick and other hackers.
This was a stirring account tied together by Goldstein's cross-country
trip to visit Mitnick in a Los Angeles prison, protest the making of
the "Takedown" movie and attend Defcon. They went to the headquarters
of Sun, Nokia, and other "injured parties" in the case against
Mitnick, but nobody would speak to them there. They also tried to
track down Tsutomu Shimomura, who had evidently left without a trace.
In an interview with John Markoff, we found that maybe he's not such a
bad fellow after all, but does seem to have some problems with
checking sources and remembering details. The film received a
standing ovation from the packed audience.
H2K wasn't all fun and roses, however. Perpetually delayed
sessions, a lack of information about moved and rescheduled sessions,
and packed and stuffy rooms left many hackers confused, frustrated
or angry. Despite problems, most attendees were thrilled with the
high quality of the speakers and the great opportunities for meeting
other hackers. The 24-hour computer networking room with hundreds
of network connections and a T1 connection to the Internet was a
The conference got unexpectedly positive (and largely accurate!)
coverage by national and international media. Journalists from
AP and NPR were present, and articles have already appeared in
Newsday, ZDNet, and other forums. The MPAA v. 2600 trial
scheduled to start Monday, July 17 in NY got some media exposure,
and hackers had the opportunity to speak directly with media
representatives who had a strong desire to truly understand the
Copyright (c) 2000 Gregory
B. Newby. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify
this document under the terms of the GNU
Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version
published by the Free Software Foundation.