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Does Hacktivism Matter?

Kai Denker
Chaos Communication Congress 28th (28C3) 2011
Indexed on
Mar 27, 2013
File name
File size
476.5 MB

Do you remember those days when hackers were “real men?” When hacking was not yet a crime and the cyberspace an undiscovered land? Just before anti-hacking laws were introduced in Germany? Back in these days, the famous founding father of the CCC made the Bundespost (Germany's Federal Mail Service) meet its Waterloo, when they hacked Bildschirmtext (Btx)—the epitome of both technological utopias and dystopias at that time. But soon, hackers suffered a setback: new laws criminalized hacking in the name of fighting white-collar crimes. Simultaneously to the laws, things were getting rougher in the media and the public opinion. While being seen as a weird vanguard of technology before, hackers soon became pranksters and outlaws. Apparently hacktivism, the portmanteau word for hacking activism, had failed to shape the policies in the dawning information society. However, there are evidences that hacktivism had an impact on the new computer crime legislation—not in terms of having more, but less restrictions implemented in the law. In my talk, I take a historian's point of view. First, I will show in which atmosphere of anxiety and excitement information technology evolved in Germany in the early 1980s. Then, I will give a very short description of the Btx hack, which is usually neglected in historical science. After giving this background, I will reconstruct the debates of white-collar crime law-making in context of the “2. WiKG” (Zweites Wirtschaftskriminalitätsbekämpfungsgesetz) in 1984-86. I will show, how different stakeholders demanded a strict law that penalized virtually every aspect of hacking while the politicians—even those from the conservative party—honored the guys who unveiled security flaws in Btx. This had led to the invention of “good” and “bad” hackers in juridical discourses. This distinction has been maintained in law journals, but likewise neglected in most court decisions. My talk will conclude by arguing that hacktivism matters in shaping policies by indirectly changing mind-sets, even if it fails to win every single battle. So, the impact of hacktivism is not part of a rational debate, but of a more complex strategic situation in which rational arguments only play a minor role.

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