25C3: Nothing to hide

Achilles had overtaken the Tortoise, and had seated himself comfortably on her back. Their race to the Berlin Congress Center, where the 25th Chaos Communication Congress was about to take place, had come to an end.

“So you’ve gotten to the end of our race-course?” said the Tortoise. “Even though it does consist of an infinite series of distances? I thought some wiseacre or other had proven that the thing couldn’t be done?”

Achilles looked at the Tortoise with a mildly deprecatory look and sighed. “Oh bother, dear Tortoise, not again! Do we have to go through this yet another time? Infinite sequences can have finite sums, as the methods of calculus invented in the 17th century by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz have … Tortoise … hrrm … I mean … have taught us. What is it with the repetitive answers we geeks have to give over and over again to questions that have already been solved? Will people never learn?”

“It seems like it,” said the pensive Tortoise. “Even here at the CCC, the same things seem to come up again and again. Take the motto for this year’s Congress. It’s Nothing to hide. Isn’t that the very thing some people repeat time and time again when critics point out that privacy is at stake in the digital age? When the CCC uncovered problems with voting computers or demonstrated the problematic use of biometric data as they published the fingerprint of German Home Secretary Wolfgang Schäuble, the answer from those infected with the naïveté virus was always: ‘Why should I care? I have nothing to hide!’ And now the CCC repeats this cliché and thus gives those people the impression that their argument was good. What has this world come to? This is madness!”

Achilles smiled. “Madness? This is ancient Greece! But I get the feeling that the CCC is not really repeating the hackneyed hand-waving of those who feel that the growing pressure on digital liberty is nothing to worry about. You could say that they are being ironic, even — but there’s more to it. After all, it has been a successful year for us, the digital natives and infonauts. The German constitutional court not only established a new fundamental right to digital privacy, the court is now also a subscriber to the CCC’s magazine, Die Datenschleuder. The CCC is visible in all the debates. Clearly, this is nothing to be shy about. With all these successful campaigns, the CCC has the right to show off. Their success is Nothing to hide! But this goes beyond political activism. Other members of our merry band of deviants have Nothing to hide, too. After all, nerdy pastimes like obsessive coding or tinkering with microcontrollers are cool now. It’s time to get out of our closets and show our soldering scars with pride!”

The Tortoise shook her head. “My dearest Achilles, I think you are exceedingly optimistic here! While I agree that there are some good signs of progress, we are still far away from victory. Surveillance has become ubiquitous. The Internet, our beloved walled garden, has turned into a panopticon! In fact, this makes me think of yet another way to interpret the motto. There is Nothing to hide in today’s surveillance society, it’s simply technically impossible.”

“I agree,” replied Achilles. “And yet I think it’s safe to say that while everything you say is right, at the same time my points are correct as well. I happen to quite like this motto. Just think of the possibilities for t-shirts! Nothing to hide … it’s a nice summary of contradicting trends. It’s almost like living in a paradox.”

The Tortoise smirked sarcastically, instantly transforming herself into a mock turtle. “What an utterly geeky thing to say!”