The feeling that someone is watching you is no longer a symptom of paranoia and a hint to check your mental health. Every day the utopia from Orwell’s pages becomes more and more real. You are being watched. And it’s legal. Can CryptoParties become an effective tool to protect our privacy?

We faced this reality forehead when the NSA contractor Edward Snowden unveiled a proof that our private communications could be easily accessible by third parties.

And if in the US this fact is an object to hide, the UK openly questioned the definition of the word ‘privacy‘. Now the British Investigatory Powers Act (or ‘Snoopers’ Charter’) opens the door to any online activity of citizens. The tax department may know about your internet purchases. The Police Complaints Commission and the Home Office may be aware of your movements around the world. The Department of Health will know about your addiction to bad habits or having fun on a Friday night.

In the post-Snowden era, what are the real limits of your privacy and rules of defending it?

 

Where are the roots of the ‘’evil’’?

Long before Snowden’s revelations, since the late 80’s some Millennials become obsessed with encryption calling themselves cyberpunks. Using an electronic mailing list those geeks discussed their concern about government monitoring, violation of their privacy and vulnerable access to any information.

Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. … We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy… We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. … Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and… We’re going to write it. » – A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto, 1993

While Cyberpunk’s aspirations were mostly utopian and youthfully ambitious, these first steps to online self-defending have been initially politically soaked. Subscribers favored technologies that could not only enhance privacy, but also noticeably influence political discussion and empower social change.

Defending the right of anonymity and opposing any kind of censorship, cyberpunks paved the way for a modern generation of activists. It concerned not only the improvement of technical capabilities (software and hardware projects), but also nationwide research reports and lawsuits against the US government.

 

Who

A new round in the history of geeks, advocating our privacy, occurred in Australia in 2012. Imagine the government initiated a law that will oblige your providers to retain all your phone calls and e-mails for the last two years. That is what provoked a routine twitter discussion between Sydney activist known as Asher Wolf and computer scientists.

A lot of us missed out on Cypherpunk in the nineties, and we hope to create a new entry pathway into cryptography”. – Asher Wolf

It took just one day to evoke dozens of geeks gatherings around the country where professional hackers trained general public to use cryptography and anonymity tools like PGP and Tor.

Surely, if you hear about people who are called encryption activists, you succumb to the temptation of modern prejudices. Illegal, forbidden, cheating. People still are extremely militant against such specialists, seeing in them the true root of evil. This attitude grows out of the fact that for most people cryptography is a dark matter, scary incomprehensible symbols and complicated programs that they cannot understand.

However, in the mean time we still tend to revive the philosophy of the DIY movement, ”Do it yourself”.  In fact, today people unite to prove to the world that these skills and knowledge are needed to protect themselves and their privacy. Security professionals, geeks and hackers around the world are hosting a series of cryptography training sessions for the general public. These marginal groups, as they are called, become real fighters for rights and equality in the modern world.

 

What

I can bet that if you hear about events dedicated to data security, a picture of a meeting of IT-nerds, understanding each other at a glance in a language inaccessible to you, will cross your mind. The essence of the Cryptoparty movement is to explain even to ‘technical dummies’ that they can build their own fence around their private lives with their own hands. If previously such meetings were held among technical gurus, today the organizers are thinking  over everything from the meeting spot to the smallest details of the performance presentation, so that anyone would be comfortable and understandable. ‘The dark art of hackers is accessible to all, legal and almost vital today’ is the message sent by the movement to modern society.

Due to the fact that it is not centralized, supervised from one point movement, CryptoParties around the world are different. Somewhere like-minded people place an emphasis on visual performances, somewhere the organizers go into real practice. Someone teaches superficial things like tricks with an Internet browser, while others go deeper into encryption. Some try to instill basic knowledge related to our everyday secure use of electronic devices. The only centralized feature is that the Cryptoparties website gathers and shares information on all meetings around the world.

 

Why

The most motivated chapters are based in areas for which tracking has become the norm of their routine. This often goes hand in hand with racial and ethnic prejudices. Which area of Chicago or New York will likely be under the police’s eye? Of course, the one represented by the black diaspora. Among such crypto-active associations there is Crypto Harlem. One day Matt Mitchell, once a journalist who had an old hand at data investigations, spread rumor throughout Harlem, inviting everyone to learn how to protect themselves in digital space. If in the beginning he himself took a place for a meeting and spent many hours teaching the public on his own, now he has teamed up with human rights activists, receives financial support and holds monthly events in the Crypto Harlem.

People who have not encountered this personally, it is easy to say that they have nothing to hide. Imagine that you are from an unfortunate region populated by “suspicious” minorities. Add to this the strange contacts in social networks and the ambiguous personal messages in the messenger. This is enough to send you out of jail on the charge of a brutal crime.

I’d like to see all the people that will be fighting this administration better protected than they are now. – David Huerta, who runs New York’s main CryptoParty chapter.

According to the data of the latest researches in USA, at least a quarter of Americans  who are aware of the surveillance possibilities started to pay more attention to their online activities and search for information on digital security.

Amy Ciavolino, software engineer, launched a full-fledged website that collected educating content on the mastery of self-defense skills: acquaintance with secure browsers, setting passwords and other tricks that can protect you from wiretapping. The resource was named  “So We Hear You Want to Fight the State?“.

With the election, there’s a lot more people thinking about activism and security around that,” Ciavolino said. “And a lot of the tutorials and things are not friendly. They’re kind of hard to consume. So we wanted to make one that was friendly and fun.”

How

The main resource about CryptoParties lives under the slogan “partying like it’s December 31st 1983″. This is a tribute to the memory of cyberpunks, whose many hours of coding sessions against the backdrop of the noisy rock of the 80s became forerunners of these events.

Social solutions pop up and sort of subside. You know they may make small progress, but the technological realm is still one where people out there have more knowledge and those people are often tapped by places like the NSA or FBI”. – Ben Birkinbine, UNR Journalism Professor hosted CryptoParties on campus.

Today people of different professions and interests visit CryptoParties. Many societies carry out activities tailored to their special needs and concerns. Encryption skills have become vital not only for individuals, but also for non-profit organizations whose existence depends on the security of their information sources and planned actions. CryptoParties have become a truly global phenomenon, which from Australia migrated to the major cities of Europe and the United States. Years have gone by, the list of participants is being replenished, and tickets for such events often have to be wrestled for. People are looking for more than just another fashionable app, party members are looking for a sense of security and tranquility for their privacy.

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