The limits of inclusion

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The post-OHM silence after the storm brings a time for reflection and analysis. What follows is an edited collection of thoughts from several indivuals written before, during and after the camp. Its aim is to provide a more theoretical basis for discussion, to release the conflicts we endured during OHM out of the personal sphere and abstract them so we may learn from them, challenge our identities and prevent future mistakes. Hackercamps Our community is extremely diverse and is made up of a rich variety of people. It is often referred to as an intergalactic hacking community with more than a little bit of seriousness. Camps such as the OHM2013 are representative of our community and are generally radically inclusive, while focusing on sharing knowledge through discussions ranging from society and art to Free, Libre Open Source (FLOSS) software or hardware reverse engineering. The topics and participants are from all walks of life and of all levels of education. The camps have a magical touch that evokes feelings of a highly technical, extremely egalitarian temporary autonomous zone filled with peers. In these camps there is an open feeling where people of any gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or nationality are welcome. They come together as peers and they meet on equal ground to share, to grow, to build, to break, and friendships that last a lifetime are commonly formed. Liminal spaces like those provided at the Chaos Computer Club's camps or the series of Dutch camps are extremely rare and these social spaces are precious. It is generally in these spaces that national identities are not hidden but are generally cast aside as variations on a larger theme. It is a place where people come as part of an international, even intergalactic, some might say, community. Everyone is welcome, as long as they commit to some very basic ground rules, and transgression of these rules is generally resolved entirely within peer-created conflict resolution processes. Sexism, homophobia, racism, classism and violence are things we as a community directly reject, even if it isn't always perfectly. We aspire to create a safe space for all walks of life and to open lines of communication. Outright action to transgress these boundaries is completely rejected. This sometimes causes controversy but generally, we do not tolerate the judgement of people based on their gender, faith, lack of faith, sexual preferences or orientation. We are a community that looks at the merit of each person in a way that accepts that hackers, artists, thinkers, creators and other members of our community will come from every walk of life. Meeting as equals, even if some have built the network, some have designed the websites, and others have contributed through purchasing a ticket and participating at the camp as a peer and so on; participation as peers on equal footing is part of the grounding of these events. There are unique concerns about such a place for visitors and while we are very free, we tend to change some of the normative societal expectations. As an example, photography is generally an ask first, take pictures secondly, social exchange. There are exceptions to most of the camp's social expectations, of course. Hackers tend to play with any rule or system. It is our nature and such a nature is what makes these camps an unparalleled experience. They are often referred to as "magical" when experienced for the first time by someone who has never discovered such a group of peers. Empire Now why is intelligence and law enforcement so interested in our community and the larger hacker scene? The main duty of intelligence agencies and law enforcement within society can be summarized as allegedly preserving national stability, upholding the law and keeping order. Within a knowledge economy, such as the Dutch, the manageability of science and technological development by the state is deemed crucial to its stability. The hacker scene takes a rather peculiar position in this. On the one hand, we provide an enormous pool of talent and resources, yet at the same time we are a notoriously unmanageable force which poses a possible threat. We have gained our knowledge independently and have developed our own technology through our own means. We know why and for which goal we have developed these technologies: we wish for them to be free - as in beer- and to be free- as in freedom. These goals form the intrinsic value of our technology; they are not merely tools to accomplish a technical task, but tools to further the combined knowledge of the intergalactic community. In order for the state to catch up with these events and to prevent the subversion of its authority, the state has very little choice but to try and find itself a place right in the middle of our scene, a position where it can exert control and make our scene manageable and direct it towards national stability. Such a process of co-optation is what we can see happening right in front of our eyes today. This might not even have been such a bad thing if state interest was in line with hacker ethics, but despite claims of wanting to use our technology for good, history has shown that states, intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the military are not the most reliable institutions for the noble appliance of science and technology. Law enforcement officers follow the rule of law while having to accept that other entities in the governmental environment, such as the intelligence community, have the freedom of so called extra-legal acting in the "higher" interest of the state. There are well established mechanisms to ensure that law enforcement does not interfere with intelligence activities in almost every country-specific legal system. This appears to be the case in both so-called "democratic" and "non-democratic" environments. Ethics Hacker ethics promote values such as decentralisation and freedom of information. However, such values are not always compatible with the legal framework. The intelligence community is - from a philosophical point of view - the natural enemy of anyone promoting freedom of information, as intelligence work is based on the principle of secret-keeping or secret-releasing when it benefits their generally centralized control of processes. Freedom of Information allows anyone - the public at large - to understand and interfere in the processes. But this is not in the interest of the intelligence community. Members of the hacking community who work for law enforcement or intelligence contractors are insofar outside of the value-system of the hacker-community, as their job brings explicit obligations to accept the "rules" of the customer and the legal framework. These rules are brought to the actors in the form of Non-Disclosure Agreements, as well as through civil and criminal law punishment conditions in some cases, which forbid the disclosure of information about details of the work, often as well as of procedures on technical details. Hackers need an atmosphere of openness and freedom to share thoughts, ideas, experiences and values. Quid pro quo exchanges, reporting on people, documentation of those at the camp, as well as the use of legal privilege in service of compromising targets at the camp could all be the norm while having police and intelligence actors based in our community. While it is unavoidable that members of law enforcement and intelligence are sent to hacker meetings to track people´s appearance and activities and to try to infiltrate groups of interest with snitches and influential agents, there are more or less well established procedures within the hacker community to prevent these actors from becoming a part of the community. One of the key components is to share with others that such an actor is present. Another is to reject meeting such actors as friends when they clearly seek to dominate, influence or otherwise disrupt our community. Inclusion It may appear as if there is a contradiction between the open, inclusive, tolerant nature of the hacker communities and avoiding certain actors from becoming part of the scene. However, when considering this it is important to realise that there is a mutual dependency between these values of openness and tolerance and the egalitarian nature of our scene. We cannot meet as equals if we do not set aside our differences in race, gender, sexual orientation and which nation or galaxy we are from. Vice versa, if we are not all equal, if one part is allowed to dominate over the other, we can no longer be as open, inclusive and tolerant as we want to be. Being able to come together within this fragile balance is what gives our camps their magical touch. Now it should be clear that law enforcement and intelligence are not our equal peers; it is in their very essence to be an authority. It is not debatable that they would like to learn from us and it is also not debatable that they're willing to share some information with us personally. This is however the opening salvo in a larger Faustian pact - one that may start with Non-Disclosure agreements and end in legal or other kinds of trouble including extra-legal harassment. Granting such authority a space within our camps and spaces gravely threatens the fragile balance which makes them so special. When we keep in mind that hacker ethics go against the interests of the intelligence community in terms of control and the values we promote are not always compatible with the law - often by being ahead of the law- it seems that conflict is inevitable. The main problem here is not so much the conflict itself, but our unequal stand in it. When dealing with an authority, our peer created conflict resolution processes lose their power. We are less able to resolve matters as peers and we can no longer be open and inclusive to those who stand in conflict with authority. In short, if we value the magic touch of being able to come together in all openness and fully inclusive towards our peers, it is essential that we preserve the balance of equality and avoid authoritarian influence. While the natural solution would be the separation of entities as it was arranged in the past, the debate has the potential to split the scene. Indeed the scene is plagued with false dichotomies and the basis for such a split can already be found in the careless adoption of terms coined by the security industry like white hat vs. black hat and 'ethical' hacker vs. cybercriminal or the pejorative use of script kiddies vs. 'real' hackers. This plays directly into the hands of people wishing to control, suppress and influence our communities. Such an impact is the general goal of some of these state actors, employing the 'good' hackers whilst criminalizing the supposedly 'bad' guys. The acceptance of law enforcement and intelligence institutions in our midst begins a process which normalizes the power relations that prevail in mainstream society within our community. Mixing the hacker-scene with intelligence and law enforcement should be considered harmful and actively limits our ability to create a world based on our values.


Could you define "intelligence institutions" ?

Without a proper definition your blogpost stays either vague and or the ambiguity will not lead to the proper discussion this topic deserves.

By labeling everyone who works for "intelligence institutions" as evil we push away from us the many people on the inside who could be our allies. Remember that all the Whistleblowers who spoke at OHM were once also part of an "intelligence institution" (a term that remains rather vaguely defined as above comment remarked).

There are many more Bradley Mannings working for various NATO armies, many more Edwards Snowdens making a living by keeping the systems of surveillance and oppression running. By not clearly defining "intelligence institutions" and labeling anyone near them as 'the other' and/or 'evil' we push away those who would, with a little encouragement, become our most important allies.

But the much more structural problem with this whole debate it that is seems to have become a nasty case of navel gazing about the difference between 'hackers' (a term not defined) an "intelligence institutions" (also not defined). The navel gazing is mixed in with a lot of indignant foot-stamping about the various evil things done to 'us' by 'them'.

Actual structured discussions about why the West seems to be rolling back 800 years of human-rights progression at a breathtaking pace are nowhere to be seen. It's much easier to be angry at 'them' and thereby suggest that if 'we' (not defined) can just 'defeat' (not defined) 'them' (not defined) then in glorious 'victory' (not defined) everything will be OK somehow. Being angry about headache-symptoms while not checking if it is caused by dehydration or a brain tumor is not a smart move.

By not discussing the 'Why is this happening' question but instead staying mostly in indignant-footstamping-mode the hacker community makes itself mostly irrelevant. Things like prank-calling the NSA ( and suggesting we have 'won' something there is just an indication of how truly lost much of the community is. 'Hey, we really stuck it to that receptionist for 6 minutes'! I'm sure the US intelligence apparatus is shuddering with fear. Seriously?

Anyone in favor of a sustainable and democratic future of this planet has been losing horribly since the day Gov. Bush was elected by five judges. Thanks to the info Manning and Snowden gave us our society can *maybe* begin to have a grown-up debate about the scale of our problem. But anyone who thinks these things are even tactical victories is deluded, especially since almost no-one is actually *acting* on the implications of all this info.

If 'we' just want to feel good about ourselves because of our moral virtue and cleverness then navel gazing about 'them' vs 'us' is fine. If we actually want to do something about the entire planet burning down around us this won't cut it.

'Intellegence institutions', at least in common usage, is well enough defined to pick out some whistleblowers from them. These whistleblowers as examples, however, enforce the rule and argument in a 'them' and 'us' way that might want to be avoided. They were within and actively reached out, as individuals, to people embedded in networks outside that were not, they hoped, infiltrated by other members of said institutions.

Dear Arjen,

A bit of a polemic style is nice - I appreciate that - but misquoting, dismissing self-reflection as navel-gazing and complaining about the lack of definition of words which you subsequently use yourself without further questioning doesn't particularly add to a fruitful discussion. Nevertheless, you have a fair point in addressing the need to analyze why society is drifting in all the wrong directions.

I'm not quite sure which groundshaking humanitarian events took place around 1200 AD to make you think we're rolling back 800 years, but let's assume you're referring to the project of Enlightenment and the claim to universal human rights that originated from it.
In that context, it may be good to consider how historically these claims to human rights have done rather little to prevent states from degrading into various forms of authoritarianism and/or totalitarianism. Call me cynical, but I have zero faith in the consolidations of power that we call states to inherently adhere to any moral values that stand in the way of sustaining and expanding that power. Such seems to be the nature of the beast. The question then becomes not so much 'why is western society digressing from enlightened ideals?' but rather 'why hasn't it done so much earlier?' or 'what constituted the hegemony of enlightened ideals within western society in the first place?'.

One analysis answering the 'why hasn't it done so much earlier?' I find appealing is that throughout most of the last century western society was forced by the Soviet Union to pose an ideological counterpart to socialism. The threatening rise of socialism called for an ideological answer which was found in terms of individual freedom. With the end of the cold war, there is no longer any need for this ideological answer. To put it bluntly: without the threat of socialism, the western states no longer need to give a damn about our individual freedoms.

As for 'what constituted the hegemony of enlightened ideals within western society in the first place?', this should be traced back to the interests of the bourgeousie during the French revolution and the rationale of the class-based industrialized society examplifying the age of modernity. Books can (and have been) filled on this subject, but suffice to say we live in an era where modernity is in deep crisis, if not already completely dead.

Ofcourse a reaction on a blogpost doesn't allow for the detail or nuance these questions call for, but I'd be happy to see your insights in the matter.