October 16, 2012

Cryptoparties teach privacy to the public

By Andy Park
16 Oct 2012
Welcome to a Cryptoparty
where privacy becomes public

Cryptoparties have now been held in about 40 cities worldwide.
Cryptoparties have now been held in about 40 cities worldwide.

listen to ASHER_WOLF comments here or the SBS reports here
 Once the secret domain of hard-core hackers and the military, encrypting data has entered the mainstream, with a series of gatherings designed to share data privacy with everyone, writes Andy Park.

 A technicolour art space in south Sydney on a Saturday night is an unlikely gathering point for internet denizens interested in remaining private.

Welcome to a Cryptoparty, where privacy becomes public.

The 30-strong crowd are young and old, tech-savvy to tech-naive, and are part of a growing movement of people who believe that data privacy is not secrecy.

Not only do they want to protect their emails, files and browsing history from governments, but also from corporations and other internet users.

They are not necessarily hackers and what they are doing is not illegal.

Their knowledge base of data encryption is crowd-sourced and their decentralised, self-organising “do-ocracy” is trying to put the personal back into personal computing.

This second Sydney Cryptoparty was organised by 'Karwalski’, who says that it’s about Cryptography entering the mainstream.

"That's what Cryptoparties are about, making some of these messages simple and sharing that information and trying to get past the technical jargon." he said.

Cryptoparties organically sprang out of a Twitter exchange involving Melbourne information activist Asher Wolf in August this year.

Within hours of the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment passing, plans were under way for the first Cryptoparties.
“Basically it was just a conversation that happened on Twitter and I expected to be a really small thing amongst my friends and it’s taken off, it’s now global, there’s been 30 or so Cryptoparties around the world," she said.

“There are people everywhere that are looking of this kind sort of tool, these sort of events to help them protect their privacy.” 

In fact, parties like this one are happening on the same day in Reykjavik, Brussels and Manila.

Encryption is the science of changing data so that it's useless to an unauthorised person.

Senders either use a pool of publicly available keys or make their own.

The booming trend extends across hard drive encryption, email and chat protection, browsing privacy and even protecting your mobile communications.

But Cryptoparties are not exclusive to the internet generation. 

Retired French-Australian Woman Corrine say that she came tonight to learn the basics.
She says she is a citizen with “nothing to hide”.

"Privacy is a very important issue for me, wether it's on the internet or on the phone. Do you have to be a hacker to be into encryption? Not I don't think so, not at all"

Jon Lawrence from Electronic Frontiers Australia, who have their own webpage dedicated to cryptography supports the growing movement.

"Cryptoparties are a really powerful example of how one activist in Melbourne has an idea and within days it's become a global phenomenon. It's a great case study in it's own right"


But is it teaching cyber criminals to hide their tracks?

"Those who break the law have already probably learnt cryptography," says Asher Wolf.

“Maybe a year ago, there were people out there that though that if we just lobbied the governments hard enough, if we just lobbied businesses hard enough they would protect our privacy for us.”

Both the Australian Federal Police and the NSW Police declined to comment on Cryptoparties when approached by SBS for this story.

This, despite AFP’s website reading "the increasing use and dependence on technology as one of the major influences on the domestic and international law enforcement operating environment".

Karwalski draws analogies about privacy as a kind of civil infrastructure.

"The same things goes for infrastructure like the roads, we can't say that the criminals can't use the roads. The same thing goes for encryption tools and privacy tools" said Karwalski

"When you are describing these tools, people will put the argument that if you've got something to hide, you are doing something wrong. It's just not right.

“If you've got curtains on your bedroom windows it's because you've got something to hide, it doesn't mean you have been doing anything wrong, it's personal privacy,"
he said.

Asher Wolf says that it's about users taking charge.

“More and more people are looking at the legislation all around the world and the tools that governments and business use against them to harvest their data and invade their privacy and people have decided to take responsibility for their own privacy using legal means,” she said.

It's a trend that's seeing internet users learning how to be private, out in the open. 



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