GEORGE ORWELL 2015: I'm In A Den Of Hackers Two Degrees From Snowden. Look for Rm. 101 to save me!

I'm sitting in the Alan Turing room at Noisebridge hackerspace here in San Francisco, CA writing this post. That explains the den of hackers” reference in the title. But before I explain the Edward Snowden reference we need to get a few definitions straight, and a few stories need to be told.

Now first, the definition of “Hacker”. The definition is much more nuanced than common knowledge. For example, you probably think from recent stories in the news, its about someone, an individual, possibly some malcontent, or some countries elite group of security coders stealing your credit card information as you shop at Target or WallMart. That may be true for some hackers, but definitely not all, and not the majority in my experience.

For some the badge of hacker” can be worn proudly, it can mean someone who is a genius at computer technology, who comes up with out-of-the-box ways of thinking, of ways to do something so differently, so disruptive (but in a good way), it makes others stop and think . . . Why Didn't I Think Of That? Or WOW, That Really Works! What A Cool Idea! In fact, in the old days I would have classified Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, both as hackers, among other things.

A hacker can be a maker, an entrepreneur, a writer, teacher, many things. Just understand that the definition itself is not always negative, and we are not always out to steal your credit cards! Some of us are even figuring out more secure ways of transacting electronic commerce, bitcoin exchanges, etc.

So suffice it to say I have opened your mind to a larger definition of hacker for a moment and lets move on . . . Hackerspaces, What Are Those? I thought that was only Chinese Internet Cafes, you say.

Hackerspaces are places where hackers hang out. You might not find one in North or South Dakota, but a fair number of these spaces are here in the United States and Europe and everywhere around the world. I've known a few people who actually make it their business to travel the world visiting hackerspaces. They are very interesting individuals much more nomadic than myself.

I personally have visited only three, two here in the bay area: Noisebridge, HackerDojo, and one in Sacramento, HackerLab. Which I hear has been so successful, it is extending into another facility. It has very close associations, with believe it or not, corporate Intel. Every hackerspace is different and has its own individual personality. I like the robot group that meets at HackerDojo, in Mountain View, CA.

There, a young genius teenager, showed me around robots being designed to help the elderly in distress, he was working very closely with retired engineers (men 40 and 50 years his senior), who were mentoring him upon the path of what could possibly be a very brilliant future career in robotics and AI. Many of the hackerspaces teach classes for free in coding, electronics, making, etc. Membership to these spaces help fund their operations and facilities. Most come with special perks and access.


One of the rules you should always follow when entering a hackerspace is respect. Check your ego at the door, because you will invariably meet someone more brilliant, more cool, than yourself. And when you do, you want to be on your best behavior, treat them as you would like to be treated and everything usually works out fine. There have been a few instances where someone tried to hack me” and my servers and such, but they usually tire and move on after a while. So be careful of giving out too much information to unsavory individuals until you form a bond of trust.

Make sure you are running updates to all security software on all your systems. Make sure they are hardened, but that is always good advice no matter what . . . I was actually once in a meeting in which an agent of the NSA was accused, but I will keep that story to myself.


Now to the Snowden two degrees reference . . . Turn the clock back 18 years, to an experimentally edgy World Internet Center, here in San Francisco (now gone), before the emergence of all these hackerspaces. I took it upon myself to personally mentored a young and brilliant free-minded teenager, recognizing his unique genius from the moment that I met him. Understanding that what he needed was some guidance, but really not too much, or so he thought, as we all seem to do at that age. He went on to form a company called Lavabit. Lavabit's mission was providing secure email. Something we all really need dearly today.

One of Lavabit's secure email addresses was! Click on it and you will be taken to a wikipedia article about Lavabit, rather than emailing Edward Snowden, somewhere in exile in Russia at the time of this posting.

My now much older and wiser friend Ladar Levison has started a new mission, to form Dark Mail, the world's first end-to-end encrypted Email 3.0.

I support him, as well as a lot of people who value their privacy and still believe in and cite The Bill Of Rights and the Constitution of the United States Of America, founding documents of this country, still importantly valid even today! One of America's greatest achievements and ideologies, right up there with the moon landing in my book.


Graphic Summary of Procedures at the NSA Data Center in Utah

Now my personal opinion; Privacy is important, security is important, especially against terrorism, but we shouldn't be so fearful that we end up sacrificing the very freedoms we are trying to protect. I am exercising my right to free speech this very moment. Freedoms that Americans before me fought hard for, and even died for.

Imagine if I lived in a country where someone could harm me or put me in jail for what I am going to say next . . . So yes, I think Edward Snowden did a good thing for this country! It got the conversation started around privacy and how much the government can be allowed to snoop on you, whether or not you are breaking any laws.

And most of us aren't, we are good upstanding citizens. But that doesn't mean they (the NSA, CIA, FBI, Local Police, etc, “insert your top-secret national, or international, government sponsored cyber-spy agency here””) should be able to invade our privacy anyway.

And believe me, they are. They (those agencies listed above) may believe they are above the law of the land, that they are actual heroes protecting the people by spying on them, for their own good. I soundly disagree. Hiding behind the hilariously named Patriot Act”, as if anyone who disagreed with it was not a patriot. And if it is finally proven that they aren't doing things legally, they will simply change that law in their favor, as they are already trying to do, and have. The media assisting by Fear mongering or putting a confusing spin on things, so that the dull public will loose interest, and goes back to the latest star gossip, dancing, and reality TV. All I can say is, let's not let them. Stay informed, be vocal, or forever loose that right!

In the society that Orwell describes, every citizen is under constant surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens (with the exception of the Proles). The people are constantly reminded of this by the slogan "Big Brother is watching you": a maxim which is ubiquitously on display. In modern culture the term "Big Brother" has entered the lexicon as a synonym for abuse of government power, particularly in respect to civil liberties, often specifically related to mass surveillance.

Although you may not agree with my opinions, see why I agree with Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul, and remember that Big Brother is watching you and he only has your best interest at heart. Yeah right! Just put me in Room 101 already. Because, that is where we will all end up, if our freedoms are curtailed much further.