30C3 my highlights…

The following talks were my highlights… (in no particular order). I don’t really intend to present much of an opinion here, its just a list of talks that I think were particularly interesting and important. I might go into more detail on what I actually think in individual blog posts later.

Do You Think That’s Funny? by lizvlx. Things have got much harder for anti-establishment artists over the last few years. It would seem that even art isn’t immune to over reaching by anti-terror laws. I found it interesting how artists are grappling to understand the consequences of the Summer of Snowden. Which leads me strange onto the next talk I really enjoyed.

Hello World(video file) by Aram Bartholl. Some really interesting work. The fake Google car was very funny. Something I wished I had managed to go and take part in was the chance to make a shielded mobile phone pouch out of copper material. A good way to ensure that your phone isn’t transmitting when you don’t want it to be.

07KINGSTON25 JAMAICA: MALARIA UPDATE Dispatches from Fort Meade(video file) by Alexa O’Brien. The case of Chelsea Manning is distressing to say the least. Not only was she treated very badly whilst awaiting trial, the court case was then largely held in secret. Most of the evidence used to put her away from 35years was only disclosed to the public 18months into the trial proceedings. The first of the more disturbing presentations.

Sysadmins of the World Unite by Jacob Appelbaum and Julian Assange with surprise guest Sarah Harrison. This didn’t work so well, but it was always going to be a tricky one to pull off. Sarah Harrison essentially opened with a statement from Wikileaks. It was interesting but almost had a polished propaganda feel to it. There was then an attempt for Jacob, Julian and Sarah to have a discussion centred around the role sysadmins have in keeping the activities of agencies and companies in check. It was framed as sysadmins having a moral duty to monitor (and if necessary presumably leak) the activities of the companies they are involved in. While in principle I think whistle-blowers are important, but just because a sysadmin is managing data that doesn’t mean they really understand what they are looking at. So encouraging mass leaks might back fire horribly if people don’t understand the consequences of the information that they release. Problem is, perhaps you don’t understand the consequences of not leaking something. Very tricky, I don’t envy anyone with this type of moral dilemma.

ID Cards in China: Your worst nightmare by Kate Krauss. Very interesting talk about how China is using ID cards to store very detailed information about its population. China’s ID cards store your political views, HIV status, mental health situation, names of your parents… and much more. (Things might be bad in the west, but not this bad.) This data can be used to discriminate against or persecute individuals or groups on mass.

The 30C3 Keynote by Glenn Greenwald. It was always going to be a full house for this talk. Covered the ground you would expect, from the Snowden and the NSA to the complicity of the mass media (Mr Greenwald is not fond of the British media). It should be watched.

EUDataP: The State of the Union by Jan Philipp Albrecht. The EU Data Protection plan is something that EU citizens should be keeping a close eye on but is also detailed and complex and therefore hard to keep an eye on. It is somewhat reassuring that there were a number of people from the European Parliament at the congress. That at least shows that there are people interested in looking beyond the mass media and the normal information channels to get a more complete picture of what it happening.

Through a PRISM Darkly by Kurt Opsahl (Senior Staff Attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation). More information one how the NSA goes about spying on, well just about everyone it would seem. Including, how long they keep the information, what they choose to actually look at, and how a target becomes a target. Essential information that helps make sense of what we are hearing in the news.

SOPA NSA and the New Internet Lobby by Elizabeth Stark. Elizabeth was one of the key individuals involved in the stop SOPA campaign and she tried to shed some light onto how you manage a campaign of that nature. Particularly how you capture the imagination of people to get them on-board. I got the impression that she wasn’t exactly sure how you do that, how you create a social Tipping Point. This isn’t a criticism, I study tipping points in society and I’m not sure either. She did say that it probably requires something tangible to rally against. This opens up the interesting possibility that SOPA defeated itself.

No Neutral Ground in a Burning World by Quinn Norton and Eleanor Saitta. A provocative title for a talk that I felt held back a little bit. I was expecting to be told at the time for apathy was over that not intervening (or failing to get involved), was as much an intervention as direct action. That battles for the future of the internet and digital privacy were not some abstract concern of a bunch of geeks, but would directly effect the real lives of everyone on the planet. The talk almost did this, so its worth watching.

The TOR Network by Jacob Appelbaum and Roger Dingledine (The TOR dream teem). An update on TOR; funding, technology and the future. Also dispelled a couple of myths. One being that the NSA have loads of nodes/bridges, and the other being that most of the traffic on TOR was/is generated by child pornography or the Silk Road website.

To Protect and Infect 1 by Claudio Guarnieri and Morgan Marquis-Boire. The start of disclosures around the militarisation of the internet. See part 2.

To Protect and Infect 2 by Jacob Appelbaum. Following on from part 1, Jacob picked up the thread of how and the extent to which we are being watched online. The revelations in these two talks are amazing in many ways. The technology they have is mind blowing, to the point where I started to wonder (wish) if its all some sort of big joke. This talk gave details on what in 2007(ish) was cutting edge technology that was essentially available in a catalogue at the NSA. You can read more at Das Spiegel.


30C3 – Art Has No Answer

To talks from two activist arts, “Do You Think That’s Funny?” by Lizvlx and “Hello World” by Aram Bartholl had beneath them a common message even if the styles of the art presented differ. In light of the “Summer of Snowden” (as it has now been coined) art is left as wanting, as speechless as many of the other speakers. Aram at one point recognised that art is yet to find a way to encapsulate the gravity of what has happened, and that works can seem “funny” but somehow inadequate. A feel shared by many as we try to work out the future holds.

The community as a whole is yet to process what we now know to be true. That, to quote the opening comments, “we have woken from a bad dream and found ourselves in an even worse reality”. Its not simply that we have learnt that the conspiracies were true, or that our privacy may have been lost forever. It is more than that. The internet was supposed to be the great leveller, a global democracy, where everyone would and could be heard. That dream seems to have died, the internet is not free. It is possibly the greatest potential threat to our liberty and piracy. Somewhere, something has gone very badly wrong and many people are looking to the community presented by attendees of 30C3 to put it right. Problem is, we don’t know how to do that yet, and the machine’s gears are still turning.