geert lovink on Wed, 29 Dec 2010 18:32:45 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Rop Gonggrijp's opening speech at the 27th Chaos Computer Club Congress in Berlin

(Two days ago Rop Gonggrijp opened the annual Berlin hackers event of  
the Chaos Computer Club in the sold-out Congress Center. Here on  
nettime there was quite some debate about the key note he gave in the  
same place, five years ago, called We Lost the War. This time, of  
course, many were eager what Rop had to say about Wikileaks and his -- 
past-- involvement in it. But more interesting were in fact his  
stories about the campaign against electronic voting machines, his  
call for research into what Rop calls 'pharmacological political  
science' (similar to Bifo's agenda?) and the dramatic decrease in the  
quality of education in NL and elsewhere. As always Rop language is  
slightly programmatic, shall we say: encrypted? I listened to the  
speech through the stream. Quite an event. Enjoy! Geert)

Rop Gonggrijp: My keynote at 27C3
Right here exactly five years ago Frank Rieger and myself held a  
lecture that was called “We lost the war”. It was about how we felt  
the fight over privacy and wider civil rights was going. For those of  
you who weren’t there: it wasn’t a very happy story. It was at the  
height of the post 9/11 paranoia. It was a done deal that the whole EU  
was going to have data retention and Frank and I set out to explore  
the future a little bit.

I guess the pessimism in our talk was partly inspired by the awe we  
felt over this perfect storm. What we saw felt like a desperate last  
stand in a world which was facing economic non-sustainability, climate  
change, major power shifts and the end of cheap oil and many other  
natural resources. All of this was happening in the next few decades.  
Each independently, these are factors capable of causing serious mayhem.

A lot of what we predicted for the short term did in fact play out. It  
is clear to many more people today than in 2005 that the world is  
headed for turbulent times and that this perfect storm is still very  
much out there. But obviously the fight over privacy is still ongoing,  
so in that sense we were wrong: we did not lose the war, at least not  
completely and not everywhere.


In Germany this became apparent when the Constitutional Court started  
defending privacy and civil liberties in earnest. Many of you already  
know this: they first told the government that cops cannot go randomly  
OCRing license plates from traffic whizzing by on the road just  
because they felt like it. Then they ruled that spying on people’s  
computers is like spying in their bedrooms, so it should meet the same  
stringent criteria. And to cap it off they killed the German data  
retention legislation, at least for now.

The Court saving the day in such a grand way was considered an  
unlikely outcome in 2005, even among people bringing these cases to  
the court. Imagine how easily these judges, like so many other judges,  
could have gotten these complex issues wrong.

If you compare Germany to a bus, then it’s like these judges leapt  
from their seats, pushed aside the driver and pulled the handbrake  
just before the bus tumbled into the ravine. For them and for all of  
us, I really hope the judges on the court live long enough for the  
rest of Germany to see it that way. At this point the bus driver is  
just trying to get these judges to release the damn brake so the bus  
can move on.

In March 2008, after the government-installed spyware decision but  
before it killed data retention, I wrote a long blog post admitting  
that I had given up too early and that, at least in Germany, the fight  
over privacy was ongoing.

The Netherlands

I live next door, in the Netherlands, where the perspective is a  
little different. For one we have a constitution but no Constitutional  
Court. Under the dutch system, it is simply assumed that parliament  
would never introduce laws that would violate the constitution. So our  
constitution serves as a ‘voluntary guideline for legislators’ if you  
will. And just in case the constitution might still get in the way,  
every prohibition ends with ‘unless warranted by law’. I don’t want to  
be only negative, I guess our constitution does protect us from  
municipal governments going rogue, as they cannot make laws.

What this means in practice is that in the Netherlands you need a  
Parliamentary majority to stop anything bad from happening. So in the  
Netherlands fear-mongering can be more effectively used by the  
government to pass oppressive laws. And it has been. Against a  
backdrop of increasing xenophobia the Dutch are databasing everything  
that involves moving people, money or bits, to be used against us in  
various ways. We are at the point now where – without any specific  
suspicion – a dutch homeowner can get a letter announcing a search of  
their home in order to “make the city safer”. And whatever bits of  
surveillance state are missing are being built at breakneck speeds.

I think we can say that when it comes to civil liberties my country is  
downwardly mobile. Lots of reasons, but I guess on the top of my list  
is a profound crisis in the educational system now entering it’s 20th  
year which would be a talk in itself.

The Netherlands used to be a country like Sweden or Denmark. Then it  
was a country like Germany for a bit in the nineties and after a  
confusing period with political murders and truly insane political  
developments we are now approaching England. I’m still guessing we’ll   
level out before we reach Italy, but it really is becoming hard to tell.

I could talk more on some of the interesting things that are happening  
in The Netherlands but that would take a whole hour. What is important  
is that some of these things have served as examples of how things go  
wrong before the German Constitutional Court. After 25 years, the  
Netherlands have a leading role in discussions on privacy and civil  
rights again: we are now the negative example that helps keeps other  
countries avoid some of the worst transgressions.

The last thing I will say about the increasing differences between the  
Netherlands and Germany is that Germany is not immune to the things  
that have been happening in the Netherlands. Please remember that the  
market is not the answer for everything, make sure you keep your  
educational system functional, watch where funding for political  
parties comes from, keep resisting fear as a basis for politics and by  
– quite literally – all means defend your constitution and your  
constitutional court.

Back to “We lost the war”

We actually ended up motivating a lot of people by pointing out the  
seriousness of the situation. Also, people see that technology there  
is this persistent myth out there that if the civil rights situation  
gets really bad, the hackers will show up and magically save us. I  
think it has been healthy for people out there to hear hackers tell  
them that the situation is this grim and that they saw no easy answers.

But we also demoralized a few people. Maybe we should not have been so  
negative. But in the 17 years before “We lost the war” I did bring a  
lot of my amazement, joy and positive outcomes to Congress, for  
instance phone phreaking, pager receivers, XS4ALL and the fight  
against Scientology. And I did so afterwards as well with the whole  
voting machine episode.

Allow me to delve a little bit into my own psychology and that of our  

I am probably blessed with a mild form of bipolarism. I don’t really  
get clinically depressed. I don’t stay in bed for weeks, nor do I  
contemplate suicide. But I do have my ups and downs and around 2005  
this came together with my mid-life crisis and I was mighty grumpy and  
pissed off. Sure there were personal factors, but the situation in the  
Netherlands and the world was part of the problem. This did get to a  
point where more and more people were telling me to see a doctor. They  
told me: “There are pills to make you happy again you know…”.

Now the role of depression in the individual is understood to be to  
force change that is painful or expensive in the short term but much  
needed in the long term. Reading up on the truly insane numbers of  
people on anti-depressants and other psychoactive pharmaceuticals in  
our society, I cannot help but wonder whether this “unhappiness forces  
change” principles stops at the individual. Could it be that we’re  
proscribing anti-depressants to so many people that we are now below  
the threshold of relatively smart, relatively resourceful but unhappy  
people needed to bring change?

My sense is that this is a huge story. The story of a civilization  
destroying its capability to fix itself by making everyone  
artificially happy. This may not be our field per se, but I feel this  
is at least as big a story as many of the issues that this community  
is working on. I think in future we will see a scientific field called  
“pharmacological political science”. I have a feeling that people of  
the future cannot really understand our time without it.

One of the positive suggestions we did offer in “We lost the war” was  
to focus on battles that could be won. If I had I listened to all  
these  other people around me, I would have been taking Prozac or  
Zoloft in 2005. My life would have been different and possibly much  
happier, especially in the short term. But a lot of things that  
happened to me since then would probably not have happened, because  
they involve me being angry and attempting to do something about it.

Electronic Voting

My city, Amsterdam, opted to buy electronic voting machines for the  
elections of 2006. I knew there was no possibility to verify election  
outcomes and that one had to essentially trust proprietary and secret  
software to have trust in the outcome. I spent the next two and a half  
years investigating, campaigning, lobbying and lawyering. Around the  
same time Ulrich Wiesner and his father Joachim were fighting voting  
machines in Germany. I won’t get into all the details because the  
story has been told at previous congresses already. The short version  
is that the ensuing fight involved large parts of this community and  
that today these machines are not legal for use in elections in either  

In Germany that outcome is cemented in place with a Constitutional  
Court ruling that gives citizens the right to see with their own eyes  
where election results come from. In the Netherlands we’ll have to  
fight this battle over and over again, all the time debating complex  
issues with small-town mayors and municipal employees.

The past year or so

Without going into every detail of what I did since 2005, I did have a  
bit of a crazy past year. Maybe not quite as crazy as some of my  
friends, but still. For one I probably travelled more in the last year  
and a half than I did in the ten years before that.

It started October of 2009, when Julian Assange and myself were  
keynote speakers at the Hack In The Box hacker conference in Kuala   
Lumpur, Malaysia. We subsequently spent a month in the sun traveling  
Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia and we got to know each other pretty  

A month or two after, at the previous congress, WikiLeaks was still a  
relatively obscure geeky but gutsy journalism project. Julian and  
Daniel got a standing ovation while they stood on this stage speaking  
about WikiLeaks and about new opportunities for protecting freedom of  
the press in Iceland. Three weeks later, I was was in Reykjavik with  
them and others to help write the proposal for IMMI, the Icelandic  
Modern Media Initiative.

Then I was home for a week before leaving for India to speak on voting  
machines. All of India has been voting on black box style voting   
machines for the past decade, and it’s beginning to dawn on people  
there that there is a problem with transparency. I was there with Alex  
Halderman, a e-Voting related professor from the University of  
Michigan and Till Jaeger, the German lawyer who won the case against  
voting machines here in Germany. Together we met with politicians and  
we spoke at conferences. But probably the most important thing that  
happened was for Alex and myself to study an actual Indian voting  
machine together with our Indian colleague Hari Prasad.

Then I was home for three weeks before leaving for Iceland again, this  
time to help out on releasing the now famous Iraqi helicopter video.  
This was not planned: I read the WikiLeaks twitter feed, concluded  
that Julian needed help so I flew out a few hours later. I stayed for  
two very hectic weeks, helped produce the video and travelled with  
Julian to a press conference in Washington.

After that I had to get back to writing the study on the Indian voting  
machines. Which, hardly surprising, were just as easy to manipulate as  
any other black box voting system ever studied: we proved yet again  
that anyone with access to the machines could change the outcome of  

Then later in the year I went to Brazil to look at e-Voting there.  
Their systems are even more dangerous than anyone else’s. The  
Brazilian voting machines get the ID-card numbers of the voters  
entered into them, and newer versions even have fingerprint scanners.  
But of course the software would never lie about the results or store  
the votes and voters in the same database. And since it prints out  
hashes of all the program files, it could never be manipulated. Brazil  
has perfectly secure electronic voting machines. Until we get our  
hands on one of them, that is.

After Brazil I was home for a week again before traveling to India  
again two weeks ago. This time we were there to help solve the problem  
instead of merely pointing it out. Alex Halderman and myself were  
invited to a conference on voting but as we arrived we were detained  
for a night and half a day at the airport because we had apparently  
“violated the terms of our visa” the last time we had travelled to  

India’s main intelligence agency had somehow investigated us as part  
of an international conspiracy to destabilize the country. We were  
eventually released after we promised not to attend the conference.  
 From a PR standpoint this whole thing made little sense. I wonder how  
many tourists have CNN waiting for them as they leave the airport  
terminal building.

Meanwhile India still has a serious problem that needs fixing. India  
is the type of country that could easily slip into serious violence if  
there is too much doubt in election outcomes. This is story to be  

As a funny side note Brazil and India apparently signed an agreement  
last month to work together on unspecified matters involving election  


So I helped WikiLeaks release the video. After that, I needed to get  
back to my e-Voting related work, but I could have stuck around  
helping WikiLeaks also. They could probably have used me when they  
released the war diaries or these cables.

That did not happen. I guess I could make up all sorts of stories  
about how I disagreed with people or decisions, but the truth is that  
in the period that I helped out, the possible ramifications of  
WikiLeaks managed to scare the bejezus out of me. Courage is  
contagious, my ass.

I wish Julian and his people well, but I can’t live a life out of a  
backpack while on the run. Not to mention the fact that Julian has  
better hair and does much better soundbites.

So what are we to make of WikiLeaks? It’s clear that recent events  
will impact the world, and our corner of it, for some time to come.  
But it’s really early to tell how, as things are still going on.  
WikiLeaks could well come out victorious in a new generational  
conflict, mentioned in the same line with the suffragettes and the  
Vietnam protesters. But as it stands today, my friend Julian is  
potentially facing prison time or even assassination for what  
essentially amounts to practicing journalism.

At the same time, many people friendly to the ideals behind WikiLeaks  
are beginning to wonder what has been unleashed. Some of my friends  
have said Julian has “angered the Gods”, Bruce Sterling recently  
accused him of “weeing all over the third rail” and a good friend of  
mine said Julian was committing “suicide by cop”.

Whatever we make of it, present anger and fear at governments over  
WikiLeaks will probably up the pressure to curb internet freedoms.  
Whether connected to WikiLeaks or not: Cryptowars 2.0 has just been  
announced. There’s a new American proposal to make all providers of  
any kind of online service provide the authorities with cleartext of  
everything that happens.

As a result of WikiLeaks, authorities the world over will probably try  
even harder to clamp down on internet freedom, so organizations  
resisting this will have to work harder also.

But regarding WikiLeaks we also need to calm down a bit. There’s  
obviously some very big things going on here that we need to keep  
watching intently. But just because we like or share some of the  
principles at stake here doesn’t mean our community is all of a  
sudden  drawn into a war with a ridiculously well-armed superpower or  
with anyone else.

Whatever our role is, it is certainly not to deny freedom of speech to  
people or organizations who don’t like freedom of speech. This whole  
Anonymous thing is so getting on my nerves. People ask me “Anonymous…  
That is the hackers striking back, right?” And then I have to explain  
that unlike Anonymous, people in this community would probably not  
issue press release with our real names in the PDF metadata. And that  
if this community were to get involved, the targets would probably be  
offline more often.

This is a mental maturity issue: our community has generally succeeded  
in giving black belts in computer security karate only to people that  
have proven a certain level of mental maturity. Yes, some of us could  
probably do some real damage to Paypal and Mastercard. But then we  
also understand that no good comes from that. If the unlikely event  
that someone here has not yet reached this level of maturity, please  
do not connect your machine to the network and talk to some of the  
other people here for additional perspective.

On the positive side, some of the issues we care about are going to be  
getting lots of attention, and this attention can be used for good if  
we keep our wits about us.

And I finally have cellphone coverage in my office downstairs.

Looking at today

As we enter uncharted terrain, we are the first generation in a long  
time to see our leaders in a state of more or less complete  
helplessness. Most of today’s politicians realize that nobody in their  
ministry or any of their expensive consultants can tell them what is  
going on anymore. They have a steering wheel in their hands without a  
clue what – if anything – it is connected to. Meanwhile the brakes are  
all worn out and the windy road at the bottom of the hill approaches.  
Politics is becoming more and more the act of looking at least  
slightly relaxed while silently praying the accident will happen  
sometime after your term is up.

Now of course I am not being completely fair. The fact that  
politicians are generally helpless in terms of public policy doesn’t  
mean to say I think they are stupid. They do have a vague sense of  
what might be coming and they’re acting accordingly. To judge their  
efficiency take a good look at the remaining public funds and public  
infrastructure and see who owns it in 5 years time.

Our leaders are reassuring us that the ship will certainly survive the  
growing storm. But on closer inspection they are either quietly  
pocketing the silverware or discreetly making their way to the  

Even politicians that are the exception, ones that “get it” and that  
want to help get us out of this mess are increasingly  
indistinguishable  from those that just pretend. We will have to learn  
to navigate a world in which every imaginable aspect of being genuine  
or sincere has 10.000 spindoctors working on how to transplant it to  
the fake turds that run things.

Now this all sounds really smug. Like we, the hackers, the geeks,  
somehow have all the answers. We don’t. But we do have some important  

For one we understand the extent to which complexity can be our enemy.  
We’ve optimized our privatized world to get that last 2%  
profitability. And we’re already in a situation where everything we  
need comes just-in-time from China, assuming that we’ll need exactly  
the same things today as we needed this time last year. Everthing is  
interconnected and if one thing fails the whole system goes down. The  
winter chaos that has broken out all over northern europe is just  
another sign of this lack of slack.

We also live in a world that increasingly has different pockets of  
reality, different narratives. In that context, I think we can all see  
that our narrative is gaining importance.

At the same time Apple, Google, Facebook and the more geographically  
challenged traditional governments will try to make all of humanity  
enter their remaining secrets, they’ll try to make attribution of  
every bit on the internet a part of the switch to IPv6, they’ll  
further lock us out of our own hardware and they’ll eventually attempt  
to kill privacy and anonymity altogether.

We still have to tell most of the people out there, but privacy is not  
in fact brought about by some magic combination on the intentionally   
confusing privacy radiobutton page on Facebook. It does come from,  
among other things, code some of us have already written and code that  
we still need to write: we need many things by yesterday. And we need  
to properly security-audit the tools we build, even if that means we  
can’t put in new features as quickly.

The future

As for the future, I stand by our basic story in “We lost the war”:  
it’s going to be a mess. I’ve just calmed down a lot when I decided  
for myself that this is not only bad news. Let’s face it: the current  
situation was never sustainable anyway. And people, both in rich and  
in poor countries, are not very happy now. Just remember the massive  
loads of ant-depressants apparently needed to keep us going. The  
decline of the Roman Empire was probably a very interesting period to  
live in and for most inhabitants life simply went on, with or without  

OK, so the world is going to be a mess for a bit… You are maybe asking  
yourself: “What do I do with this knowledge?”. First of all, John   
Stewart nailed it when he recently said “we live in difficult times,  
not end times.” The future is not about finding solitude and a farm on  
a  hill, it’s not about guns and ammo. But it is about having working  
trust relationships with the most varied group of people you can find.  
And it is about imagining beyond today and picking up a wide range of  
skills. It’s about positioning yourself such that you have some  
flexibility. Even if everything stays the same, there’s not much risk  
in any of that.

If on the other hand some of the structures around us indeed implode,  
we as a community will become no less important. Again: the world is  
not going to end. I promise there will be no zombies and humanity will  
survive. A lot of structures will survive. It’s just going to be quite  
messy for a little bit. Lots of people will freak out. For us the news  
sites will just be more like Fefe’s blog and the TV news will be more  
like the Fnord show.

If the shit hits the fan, a lot of things are going to be  
decentralized, but in a still very networked world. Some of us will  
likely be reverse engineering and then reengineering systems to get  
rid of some of the crazy complexity and dependencies. Improvising and  
doing more with less is something we are good at, not to mention  
making things when we need them and repairing them instead of throwing  
them away.

We come in peace

We’re not called Chaos Computer Club because we cause chaos. If  
anything, a lot of our collective work has actually prevented chaos by  
pointing out that maybe we should lay some decent virtual foundations  
before we build any more virtual skyscrapers.

Wau Holland explained the name to me: he felt there was universal  
validity in a set of -then rather new- theories that explained  
complex  systems and behavior from random events and very few very  
simple rules. This helped him explain a lot of how the world worked  
and how one could navigate a future a la ‘shock wave rider’.

We may not cause chaos, but we do understand some small part of how  
chaos works, and we have been able to help others deal with it better.  
As this world becomes more chaotic and ad-hoc, we can help.


This is the 27th Congress. I know 27 is not a nice round number like  
23 or 42. But since I’m 42 years old this year I get to take a little  
helicopter view. I think we should all be proud of what has been  
created here. There is a video of the 24th Congress made by Kirian  
Scheuplein and others. I can show that video to a wide variety of  
people and they generally first say “Wow” and then “When is the next  

And that sums up the importance of this event. It has drawn countless  
people into this community. Many of whom didn’t know what a printer  
driver was. They weren’t FreeBSD kernel hackers or LISP programmers,  
but they are now as much part of this community as anyone else. More  
than anything this rather impressive gathering is what we use to show  
off how many sides there are to hacking.

We may have been involved in some kind hacking before we got here. But  
this congress, more than anyplace else, is where it all comes  
together. This is where we decided that this is all so interesting and  
important that we wanted to dedicate some part of our lives to it.

Which brings me to how sad it makes me that we now needs to click our  
tickets in the exact right few hours or otherwise they are gone. The  
people that set up the ticket system have done a great job making the  
best of a potentially very bad situation. But we have to face the fact  
that this magnificent building is becoming too small or rather that we  
are becoming too many. Either way, we have arrived at the point where  
we begin to clog up one of the main pipes feeding us new people. In my  
view, congress will eventually need to grow. Maybe next year, maybe  
the year after, but soon.

Now this meets with thoughtful opposition from people I respect and  
take very seriously. Slowly morphing this event into its next size up  
– say five to six thousand people – is challenging and if things go  
wrong it could very well kill it altogether. The negative example  
often used around me is DEFCON, an event I have not yet visited.

But I have done some research. DEFCON 6 – held 12 years ago in 1998 –  
had about half as many attendees as we have in this building today and  
according to what I can find online already suffered from all the  
problems associated with DEFCON today in full force: no real sense of  
community, way too much influence from the corporate and military  
universes, a sense of us versus them, misbehaving goons, a giant  
drunken frat party. I guess what I am saying is that maybe there are  
some issues inherent to DEFCON that don’t seem to bother this event to  
quite the same degree.

But it’s not just group culture that will be an issue. We’ve seemingly  
reached the limits of what a purely volunteer organization can do.  
Growing Congress is going to be challenging and dangerous. So I’m not  
saying we shouldn’t be very careful. If we do decide to grow, it  will  
take all the talent we have to keep many of the aspects of this event  
that we like and need. At best the event is going to be in mortal   
danger for a few years.

But not growing has risks and dangers too. No matter how brilliantly  
we set up the distribution of tickets, when the hours to click a  
ticket  become minutes, most of the potential new blood – and many of  
us – will be locked out.

There are other solutions to the same problem, which I am not  
discounting. For instance we could maybe make more Congresses, either  
simultaneously or not. I haven’t missed a Congress since 1988 and I  
guess I am just personally quite attached to being together with the  
whole lot. Whatever we decide, the next few years will test our  
ability to listen to each other, come up with ideas and work together  
to make them happen.

In Closing

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once famously said “Never doubt that a  
small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;  
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Now that’s all nice and well, but this gathering and this community  
have proven that there is still a sizable niche for really large  
groups of committed citizens.

Have an excellent Congress everybody…

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