OHM 2013 — The Joy of Geeks

ohm2013_logoHome and recovered from the rigours of the amaz­ing geek­fest, OHM 2013.

This was a 5-day fest­iv­al in the Neth­er­lands where 3000 geeks, act­iv­ists and whis­tleblowers gathered to have fun and also try to put the world to rights.  And this crowd, out of all act­iv­ist groups, has a fight­ing chance. The geeks are tooled-up, tech-savvy, and increas­ingly politi­cised after all the recent assaults on the inter­net and wider freedoms.

These include all the anti-pir­acy meas­ures (inter­est­ingly, Rus­sia has just joined the lost war that is the anti-pir­acy legis­la­tion, and the Rus­si­an pir­ates are going to form a Pir­ate Church, as this will give them spe­cial pro­tec­tions and rights under the law). It also includes all the invi­di­ous inter­na­tion­al agree­ments that the US and its Euro-vas­sals are try­ing to force down the throats of reluct­ant pop­u­la­tions: ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, TAFTA.… you name it, there’s a whole new anti-free­dom alpha­bet soup out there in addi­tion to the spook acronyms.

Not to men­tion all the illeg­al US take-downs of legit­im­ate busi­ness web­sites, such as Megaup­load, and the pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance powers of the NSA and its glob­al intel­li­gence bud­dies, long sus­pec­ted by many and now proven by the dis­clos­ures of the cour­ageous Edward Snowden.

So it was lovely to see at OHM an increas­ing politi­cisa­tion. This was partly because of all the above recent hor­rors, but also because the OHM organ­isers had pulled togeth­er a strong polit­ic­al and whis­tleblow­ing speak­er track. The attack against digit­al civil liber­ties is inex­tric­ably linked to and reflect­ive of the full-front­al attack on our his­tor­ic real-world freedoms:  endem­ic sur­veil­lance, kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, CIA kill lists, illeg­al wars, drone strikes, secret courts, and many oth­er encroach­ing hor­rors that I have writ­ten about ad nauseam. And this is just what we know about.

sinking_shipIn my view our West­ern demo­cra­cies have been at least fatally holed, if they have not yet foundered. Which, of course, means that our viol­ent, inter­ven­tion­ist attempts to bring “demo­cracy” to the devel­op­ing world are derided as hypo­crit­ic­al at best, and viol­ently res­isted at worst.

The new front-line of this struggle is “cyber” war­fare — be it the illeg­al aggress­ive attacks of such US/Israeli vir­uses against Iran such as Stuxnet (that is now roam­ing free in the wild and mutat­ing), or the slower wars of attri­tion against “pir­ates”, hack­ers, Wikileaks, and the grow­ing war on whis­tleblowers such as Brad­ley Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

Well, geeks are the new res­ist­ance and they have a fight­ing chance in my view. And this is why I think that they are our best hope.

SAMSUNGThis was my exper­i­ence of OHM. Three thou­sand of the best and the bright­est from around the world gathered togeth­er not just to have fun play­ing with bleed­ing-edge tech, hack­ing and build­ing toys, and cre­at­ing slightly sur­real, if beloved, hov­er-pets (see right), but also who turned out in their thou­sands to listen to and absorb the exper­i­ences of a num­ber of inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers. In the wake of the Edward Snowden case, this is a hot top­ic in these circles and there was a huge impetus to help.

We whis­tleblowers had a fab­ulous time too. One is a “nat­ur­al-born geek” — Tom Drake, formerly of the NSA, who was threatened with 35 years in pris­on because he dared to dis­close prob­lems with his organ­isa­tion. His law­yer, gov­ern­ment law­yer-turned-whis­tleblower Jes­selyn Radack, also spoke of her exper­i­ences. Coleen Row­ley, the FBI whis­tleblower who exposed the intel­li­gence fail­ure in the US in the run-up to 9/11 and was voted Time Per­son of the Year in 2002 also gave a fant­ast­ic talk called “Secrecy Kills”, and former CIA ana­lyst and pres­id­en­tial “briefer”, Ray McGov­ern, gave the open­ing key­note speech, focus­ing on the need to speak out and pre­serve our rights. I fin­ished the quin­tet of whis­tleblowers and provided the Euro-per­spect­ive.

And of course the pat­ron saint of whis­tleblowers also did one of the key talks — but he had to be beamed in. Juli­an Assange, who was free to attend HAR, the last such event in the Neth­er­lands four years ago, was unavoid­ably detained in his embassy refuge in the UK.

OHM_Great_Spook_Panel_2013

Photo by Rein­oud van Leeuwen (http://​rein​oud​.van​.leeuwen​.net/)

The whis­tleblowers all came togeth­er for one of the big ses­sions of OHM — the “Great Spook Pan­el”, mod­er­ated by the indom­it­able Nick Farr. The pan­el was basic­ally a call to arms for the next gen­er­a­tion. This addressed the need to stand up to pro­tect our rights against all the egre­gious erosions that have occurred since 9/11.  The response was hugely enthu­si­ast­ic. I hope this goes glob­al, and the wider com­munity fol­lows up.

It cer­tainly did in one way. Ray McGov­ern announced the estab­lish­ment of the Edward Snowden Defence Fund at the end of the pan­el dis­cus­sion, and the dona­tions poured in for the rest of the event.

So a very suc­cess­ful fest­iv­al. How do I make that assess­ment? Well, on top of all the fun, vari­ety of talks and net­work­ing, the Dutch intel­li­gence ser­vice, the AIVD (an unfor­tu­nate-sound­ing name to most Eng­lish speak­ers), reques­ted a plat­form at the event after the Great Spook Pan­el was announced in the pro­gramme.

Such an act­ive and open response shows a degree of push-back against a per­ceived “threat”. No doubt the organ­isa­tion wanted to inject the estab­lish­ment anti-venom before the truth-tell­ers had their say. Any­way, on the grounds that most whis­tleblowers are gen­er­ally denied a main­stream media plat­form and/or are smeared, the AIVD was pro­hib­ited the stage.

Of course, the AIVD would have been very wel­come to buy a tick­et like nor­mal humans or pay the cor­por­ate rate to attend to show sup­port for the com­munity — its officers might have learned some­thing.…

Dutch festival OHM — Observe, Hack, Make

Today I am limber­ing up to attend the Dutch geek fest­iv­al, Observe Hack Make (OHM 2013). A lot of talks from whis­tleblowers, sci­ent­ists, geeks, futur­ists and bleed­ing edge tech people. The vis­ion­ar­ies?

You decide — all talks will be live streamed and avail­able after­wards. Enjoy!