Hackers in Government

Nick Farr, a well-known inspirer of the Hackerspaces idea in the United States and the author of the Hackers on a Plane project, delivers a great talk ‘Yes We Could: Hackers in Government’ at the SIGINT event held by the Germany-based Chaos Computer Club to express his viewpoints on how governments would function if they were run by hackers instead of politicians.

Nick Farr's biographic facts This talk is about hackers in governments. Just to give you a little bio: I am an accountant based in Washington, DC. I worked for a lot of different clients both within government and people who were trying to influence, lobby or are working for government in different ways.

When I first got to Washington, DC, I started working for the Treasury Department, for the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which helps provide funding and channels, resources from the private sector into credit unions and smaller agencies that provide credit and financial services to entities that don’t traditionally have access to commercial credit and are trying to empower smaller units, Native American units into providing financial services that are not classically provided by the private sector.

I’ve have also worked for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company; a community action agency in Washington, DC called The United Planning Organization, which provides a lot of social services and resources to low-income people in Washington, DC. And I have to add: yes, I helped Makerbot prepare their taxes for the last year.

When it comes to looking at the reality of complex technical systems, hackers and politicians are approaching from two diametrically opposite viewpoints.

You might also know me, I ran this little project in 2007 called Hackers on a Plane, and I have another Hackers on a Plane, there are 5 Americans here at SIGINT. We’re enjoying this conference; next we’ll be going to Poland for CONFidence, and then we’ll see you next weekend in Berlin for PH-Neutral.

A lot of people also know me because I’ve been active in promoting Hackerspaces, an idea which I fell in love with here in Germany, and thought that if we could just import this concept into United States it would take off and do really, really excellent things for the hacker community in the US, and over the past 3 years that’s definitely proven to be the case.

The expansion in Hackerspaces based on the model that was pioneered here in Germany has been explosive, and it’s grown in ways that I couldn’t even imagine. There’s so many Hackerspaces being built all over the United States that I keep hearing about, and I think it’s a great, wonderful thing. And I have to thank the hacker community here in Germany for pioneering that concept and testing it and going through a lot of the difficult lessons so that hackers in the United States didn’t have to. Actually, give yourselves a round of applause for Hackerspaces in Germany and pioneering that. I’m very grateful for that.

Mudge, aka Peiter C. Zatko, testifying before Congress But this talk is not about hackers that are presently in governments. The first slide that I had here was Mudge testifying before Congress (see left-hand image). It’s not saying that I think hackers should automatically go and take over the government, things like that. The theoretical construct that I’m coming from in this talk is if one day instead of politicians in leadership we had hackers, and what a fundamental and radical shift that would be in government.

I’m going to address this in a later slide, but I think that when it comes to looking at the reality of large, complex technical systems, hackers and politicians are approaching from two diametrically opposite viewpoints.

Key points of the study And so, just to introduce a couple of the assumptions that I’m working with right here, the first of which is: instead of viewing government as this big, sort of nebulous thing that’s run by politicians and bureaucrats, try to think of governments as a complex discreet system, which, indeed, is led by politicians and run by bureaucrats, just like the Internet and network structures, the way code is written, the way that code is executed within a machine is a complex discreet system. I think that you can look at governments the same way that you would look at a network infrastructure or at the way a computer runs.

Another thing that I think is important to mention is that the common misconception of hackers, I think, all around the world, is that they have a hive political mind. I don’t believe that is the case, especially in the United States where you have hackers that have very traditional right wing beliefs and hackers that have traditionally left wing beliefs. I think there is a lot of agreement, especially in the areas of Internet policy, and the way that we deal with technical systems and copyright law, I believe there’s a lot of agreements and a lot of the work that the Pirate Party is doing in their platform here in Germany and throughout the world, and similar efforts run by hackers in the United States are very common.

But when it comes to things like tax policy, when it comes to things like budgets, and when it comes to how we handle social services, I think there is a wide range of beliefs within the hacker community on those sorts of things. And my talk is not necessarily aimed at saying that hackers should, or will, or are going to do any one or two things. What I’m looking at is how hackers would approach the problem.

I believe that hackers, regardless of their political affiliation, would look at and address and see the core truth of the problem.

Everybody has their own set of political theories and beliefs, and hackers are no different from anybody else in that respect, but I still believe that hackers, regardless of their political affiliation, would look at and address and see the core truth of the problem, and apply policies honestly, and describe their beliefs honestly in ways that politicians might not.

The other thing is I’m not looking here to say whether hackers that are currently in government are doing something correct; I’m not looking to profile what hackers that are in government are doing. This is more of a theoretical sort of thought piece. And along those lines I’m going to try to allow a lot of time for questions and answers and try to encourage a sort of discussion within the group over things that are happening and things that could happen, and how hackers could fundamentally influence government.

But again, I want to make a very strong disclaimer that I’m not attempting to advocate a political belief or a political theory one way or another. I’m just trying to say that if hackers replaced politicians, suddenly, one day, how government might function fundamentally differently, and how, regardless of political belief, I think that it would be far more democratic.

Read next: Hackers in Government 2: Principal Differences Between Hackers and Politicians

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One comment

  1. Gail Ayres says:

    For the hacking community, we invite you to come to the “Crack This” challenge and please let us know what you did or at the very least, endorse the challenge to your friendly hacking community! Thanks for your attention!
    The software uses the IMPACT ( Indeterminate Morphic Poly-Alphabetic
    Cipher Technology ) method, wherein a provisional application for patent
    has recently been submitted. The initial key length is 65536 bits and
    the encryption is One Time Pad based with a running key length of
    65536*n bits.

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