Hackers, young zit-faced teenagers, mid-aged technologists and enthusiastic social techies rallied behind the motto “Who Can You Trust?”. It’s called the Chaos Communications Congress (CCC) and attracts several hundred Central and Eastern Europeans, but also North Americans by now.
Wednesday morning. It’s cold out. The streets of Berlin are empty. Most have left town to spend a few days with their families or are still sitting at bar at 9am like true Christmas refugees. Jingle bells and the Christmas craze have just faded. But near Berlin’s Alexanderplatz — the place where the infamous “communist era” TV tower looks over the city with defiant authority — a bustling bazaar is setting up shop.
But this is no North African bazaar. It is one of hackers, of young zit-faced teenagers, mid-aged technologists and enthusiastic social techies who rally behind the motto “Who Can You Trust?”. It’s called the Chaos Communications Congress (CCC) and attracts several hundred Central and Eastern Europeans, but also North Americans by now. “This is a European event and we’re happy that people from Eastern Europe are here,” says Andreas Lehner, one of the core organisers of the CCC, during the opening press conference.
The participants work on copyleft intellectual property rights, on counter-surveillance tactics and on hands-on hardware development. The basement is full of free and open source software developers who share, discuss and… well, develop software. Even John Perry Barlow, the songwriter of the Grateful Dead, made it to Berlin at year’s end to address those hackers. (JPB is co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation).
The CCC is run by the German homonym CCC, which stands for Chaos Computer Club. With about 2000 active people and members, this organisation has been in the trade since 1981. And their idea is to get wise about the tools and technology, but also understand technology in a wider context, such as how it’s used by the state, by corporations and how citizen networks bypass or undercut the commercial and official strategies altogether, in using creative tactics.
The “Who Can You Trust?” motto comes from the film Brazil, in which control by the state apparatus is questioned and dissected. What better place to talk about trust than former East-Berlin, where authoritarian rule, mixed with a special flavour of hi-tech, got people doubting about their own shadows? What better timing too, considering the brand new computer laws set to take centre-stage in Germany in the new year?
During the next four days, 130 workshops and presentations will try to get to grips with the ethical and political questions at hand. Keynote speaker Lawrence Lessig, law professor at Harvard University and founder of the Creative Commons organisation will be talking about open licensing of art and different contents. He’ll most probably challenge the traditional definition of copyright and present his own blend of alternatives.
Two Europeans specialised in election computer systems will demystify the latest mishaps and risks rooted in the newest election computers of The Netherlands and Germany. They are set to explain how the new election machines play into the hands of state technocrats and away from the public’s control and scrutiny. Yes, who can you trust?
Annalee Newitz, another high-profile speaker at this 23rd CCC, will be busting myths about why women can’t be technical in a talk entitled “Revenge of the female nerd”. She will be one of a very little contingent of female participants (less that 25% of speakers) addressing the crowd here in Berlin.
And for those of you who will miss out on this non-commercial event because you’re caught up in a commercial mall, spending precious hours with some depressed Santa Claus, you got a chance to track what’s going on here in Berlin by visiting the CCC weblog at http://events.ccc.de/congress/2006/23C3_Weblog
If that doesn’t work for you, try coming down to the hacker tent organised by the CCC in August 2007, somewhere in Germany (still to be announced).