At their yearly conference the Dutch The National Cyber Security Center stated this week they want to listen more to the hacker community. It is fine that the government will at last listen to the people who have been ahead of the curve for decades, although the question remains - why it has waited to do this until 2013? Even if this had been done as recently as 5 or 10 years ago it would have saved an incredible amount of trouble and public money. I sincerely hope that the consultations with the hack(tivist) community are about more than just technical tricks, because most benefits to society are derived from discussing policy. For purely technical issues the usual consulting companies can always be hired and then simply pay hackers for their knowledge and advice, just like any other experts.
Meanwhile a big group of hackers were unhappy about the fact they were not welcome and organized an alternative meeting. If the NCSC's intentions for the coming year work out in practice, next time this might not be necessary. On the community side, these invitations to the table should be dicussed openly and in detail (who sits at the table and wearing what hat). Because when community contributions and possible commercial interests get mixed up, things quickly degenerate into bickering and arguing. I speak from experience ;-). Nobody is "representative" of the entire hacker community. The NCSC will have to adjust to the idea that we have no centralised organisation with a head office where you can meet up with the CEO/director/top-dog.
Cory Doctorow's column in the Guardian about tech-politics and the importance of outreach by the tech community can be found here. Cory makes the point that ensuring your rights through technical skills is great, but not much help to society if the tech is too difficult for most people to use. Outreach activities and the hard work of polishing technical tools for non-techie use are of vital importance.
However, I do think that one important aspect was missing from Cory's argument, so my additional comment on another vital aspect of current tech/internet politics is below:
As nerd-politics is a subset of 'normal' politics, it's not just the nerd-part we need to worry about. The political system itself needs to function - at least some of the time - to get anywhere. If a country has a political system that retains the rituals of a democracy but no longer actually functions as such, then no amount of good nerd-politics (or politics of any other kind) will fix anything. Especially if such a fix threatens established and well-funded business interests.
It is perhaps no coincidence that all the bad tech-policy examples that Cory cites (SOPA, ACTA, TTP, DMCA, attacks on the Piratebay, mass reading of email, etc) orginate in the US and are foisted on other countries from there. While those countries deserve their fair share of blame for allowing a foreign power to bully them into this stuff, it is pretty clear where the problem lies. With or without nerds involved.
Either we fix the completely broken US political system (and good luck with that!) or the rest of the world needs to get better at ignoring absurd US laws and treaties cobbled together by lobbyists of private for-profit organisations. Neither those corporations nor general US politics concern themselves with the interests of the inhabitants of the rest of the planet. And the rest of the planet should respond accordingly.
Nerds (aka the tech community) can provide some tools to help out with that, as the Free Software movement and Wikileaks have shown.
In 1969, when the Vietnam War was in full swing, a senior analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense was quietly copying a secret report about the war. This report, which ran to 7000 pages, covered the progress of the Vietnam war in exhaustive detail. The analyst intended to share this highly classified information with influential politicians and scientists, in the hope that it would quickly bring the war to an end.
That analyst was Daniel Ellsberg, a former officer of the Marine Corps who worked for RAND, the Pentagon think tank. As a result of his experiences in Vietnam and his meetings with conscientious objectors in the US, he became convinced that the war was wrong. With his insider's knowledge, he already knew that it was militarily lost, but that the American government was misleading the people. Every day the Vietnam war took about eight hundred Vietnamese lives, more than two thirds of them civilians, and twenty American soldiers. Many more were seriously injured or maimed for life..
On July 12, 2007 in Baghdad 12 civilians, including a Reuters photographer and his driver, were shot dead by a U.S. Apache helicopter. Because of the involvement of the Reuters staff, this became minor news and the Pentagon gave a statement on the circumstances surrounding the events: nine 'rebels' and two civilians were killed (the Reuters employees). That seemed to be end of the case. Reuters tried to research the circumstances of the shooting but was blocked by the U.S. government. A formal request for access to videos of the Apache helicopter and audio communication between the crew and ground troops was refused. At that time the story was a tiny blip on the news radar, and quickly forgotten. There have been over 100 journalists killed in Iraq since March 2003 and an estimated 700,000 to over 1.3 million civilians (the U.S. military sees no need to keep track of exactly how many - "we do not do body counts").
Nearly three years later the incident is known worldwide because of the online release of 38 minutes of video recorded by the Apache helicopter involved in the incident. The shortened version on Youtube has been viewed over 6 million times. For anyone who thinks the Iraq invasion was a good idea, watch the full 38 minutes. Twice. A wealth of supporting information is available at collateralmurder.com. On Dutch TV, activist and hacker extraordinaire Rop Gonggrijp was invited to give some background to the video. The anchor closed the item with the immortal words "well, it's a good story." Former Chief of Staff General Hans Couzy had called the actions of the Apache crew a war crime one day earlier.