Deleting Digital Footprints at Crypto-Parties Over Coffee, Danish

They meet in dark rooms with window blinds pulled down, glued to their laptops, people of all ages, experts, laymen. They call it digital self-defense.

Crypto-parties. The idea was hatched by an Australian two years ago, and it metastasized (like wildfire) across the globe. It is finding particular resonance here in Germany, where allegations that the NSA has been spying on millions of Germans, including Chancellor Merkel, have created something of an uproar.

At crypto-parties you learn about add-ons, plug-ins, how to delete your digital footprint and what combination of numbers makes for effective encryption. The none so subtle message is: Governments have failed to protect their citizens from the American surveillance state (or they have colluded with Washington), and now it is time for ordinary people to take charge of their virtual lives.

Germany has a hacking tradition that dates to the 1990s. Then, hackers were a fringe phenomenon. Now they are at the center of the debate. Their political wing — the Pirate Party — controls seats in state legislatures. They have become a trend and an idea, a refutation of the status quo. Their platform appeals to those who know very little about computers and are afraid that their personal data — their identities, their beings — are being subsumed by intelligence agencies and government-affiliated corporations. The hacker qua civil-rights activist.

In the Zehlendorf neighborhood in the south of Berlin — comfortable, conservative — the Christian Democrats, Merkel’s party, are hosting crypto-parties. They don’t call them that, but that’s what they are. Here, they are less clandestine. They meet in the mornings, not late at night, and with the blinds open. The pensioners bring coffee and cake, and the hackers bring their computer skills, of which there are many. They hunker down and try to make themselves invisible. One hopes they will succeed but somehow doubts it.

by Jacob Krumrey; Berlin on November 15, 2013 from