The talks from the Chaos Computer Club's 29th Congress were all live-streamed, and can be downloaded from CCC's YouTube channel. The Keynote was delivered by Tor Project and Wikileaks cypherpunk Jacob Appelbaum (known on the hacking scene as "ioerror"). Jake spoke on mass surveillance and privacy in a global context, and his talk is essential viewing. Other 29c3 talks were overwhelmingly of an extremely high standard, and as varied as they were inventive along a continuum of political and technical content. Talks on hacking plants rubbed shoulders with papers on how to reverse engineer mobile phones into base stations and presentations exploring gender and the German language (Anatol Stefanovitsch asked: "Ist die Deutsche Sprache kaputt?" – "Is the German language broken?"; incidentally, all papers given in German were simultaneously translated into English, and Anne was involved in this interpretation project.)
There was lots of fun between talks, including playing 1970s computer game Pong on a 20m screen, making robots and getting 3,000 people to say "wop" – the sound made by a Krikkit ship landing in Douglas Adams's Life, the Universe and Everything – all at the same time. (If you've ever wondered what that sounds like, listen to our recording here.)
Well, Anne began by greeting everyone in Welsh. We pointed out that while Wales might be some distance from Hamburg in terms of kilometres, politically it lies at the heart of issues affecting us all. Aberystwyth university, where we both work, is just up the road from ParcAberporth, the UK’s only centre for testing both military and civilian drones. ParcAberporth is where the Watchkeeper drone is being put through its paces, and is a reference point in moves to normalize the routine use of uninhabited air systems (UAS) in UK skies.
The development of remote, untargeted, archived surveillance by definition impacts on us all. What's more, the implications for feeding images from routine drone surveillance into existing inspective networks are profound. As Bentham realized in 1791 when he published Panopticon, people – whether prisoners, school pupils or workers – act differently if they think someone might be watching them. The question is, do we believe the threat to our security is such to warrant widening surveillance and social management on this scale? We also need to decide whether we trust the agents of surveillance, high and low, not to abuse their power. Do we trust them today, and will we trust them tomorrow?
These are big issues, and the talks at 29c3 – delivered by people at the cutting edge of the politics and technology – represent a fascinating way into them. You'll find a list of talks posted here.
So our Romantic hackers weren’t computer hackers; the Romantic period is a bit early for that. (That said, the first computer programmer, who worked with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine, was Lord Byron's daughter, the Enchantress of Numbers herself, Ada Lovelace.) While we don’t talk about computer coding, we do look at how Romantic poets used textual coding to resist – and troll – the world's first emerging mass surveillance state. Textual strategies deployed by our writers, we suggest, exhibit enduring correspondences with contemporary hacking. Our aim in taking this approach was to cross departments in the spirit of the congress, tracing a Romantic epistemology for practices filed under hacking today.
While you’re waiting, though, you might want to take a look at our slideshow.