11 Jul 2004

The Fifth HOPE

So, I went to part of HOPE 5 in New York City these past two days. I left early because we didn’t have any place to sleep and crashing on the convention floor, while doable, wasn’t keeping us very awake during the lectures.

Anyway, it was interesting. This was my first HOPE, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. While there, I saw some of a documentary on past HOPEs and one interviewee mentioned that HOPE was largely a place for engineers and hackers to get together to be technical, that it was in no way political. That may have been true in the past, but the past few years have left our community with the realization that we urgently needed to act soon, or at least act in November 2004.

The whole place was decorated in a very Orwellian manner, replete with Nazi symbolism, big brother references, and WW2-style propaganda posters. The big brother reference, by the way, appeared directly below a giant head that looks somewhat like Bush with a Hitler moustache.

About half the talks were political. There was a talk on how cool having bloggers at the DNC will be followed by a talk on how to best make trouble at the RNC (e.g. volunteer but don’t show or make a salon appointment inside the hotel to get by security). Some other talks focused on digital rights management, 9/11, privacy, file-sharing, Florida in the 2000 election, etc. Kevin Mitnick even gave the first keynote. It was nothing we haven’t seen on Slashdot before, but they were a little bit more informative and all condensed into a few days.

I’m a huge fan of this trend. I have long agreed with Lawrence Lessig‘s position that hackers need to be more legislatively involved. In recent years, thankfully, the combination of terrible laws, terrible leadership, and terrible lawsuits have conspired to get people talking. I think Groklaw is an excellent example of this. Hackers have never been more in tune with their place in the legal landscape. But, we have to make our position known outside of the community by raising awareness of these issues close to our hearts. This can largely be done by simply educating. Mitnick touched upon a major reason why so much crap happens in lawsuits — judges simply don’t understand the issues. Mitnick’s judge was convinced he could dial up NORAD, whistle into the phone, and launch some missiles. And the Microsoft anti-trust trial’s judges could certainly have used a couple hits with a clue bat.

The days when we could bury our heads in the sand and just focus on issues of engineering are over. Patents, lawsuits, proprietary companies, and legislators are not inclined to let us alone. So, please become involved, regardless of your political inclinations; hackers need to make their positions known. Contact your representatives, educate your friends and family, donate to the EFF, and, for goodness sake, vote!