Dispute over police presence at OHM hacker festival
The Dutch Observe, Hack, Make (OHM) hacker festival that is planned for this summer has become the topic of heated discussions in the hacker scene. When it became known that the Dutch police were planning to reside in their own "village" in the festival grounds, the subsequent outrage voiced by hackers such as Jacob Appelbaum caused the festival's chief coordinator, Koen Martens, to resign. The organiser said that he had come to the conclusion that organising a summer camp for people who did their best to sabotage the camp wasn't worth the effort.
At the first small Hacking in Progress hacker camp, the police had been present in plain clothes; at the subsequent three big Hacking at Large (2001), What the Hack (2005) and Hacking at Random (2009) events, the police were sited in an area away from the festival grounds, and plain clothes as well as uniformed police went on patrol from there. For the OHM event, the police suggested they should be present in their own "village".
It is traditional for hackers to congregate in such "villages" at summer camps. The Dutch police proposed having an open presence, demonstrating forensic tools and holding discussions with hackers. When Martens, who had also been the main organiser of the 2009 camp, passed on this proposal to the community for discussion, he became the target of heavy criticism. The community didn't accept the argument that a police force that is participating openly is better and more controllable than one that is undercover. After a series of personal attacks, Martens pulled the plug.
The Dutch police received a Big Brother Award for its use of trojan software last year. A proposal by the Dutch Ministry of Justice to legalise the use of this software beyond its national borders had caused international concern. That the proposal would cause controversy was, therefore, to be expected, but it seems that the heated discussions on Twitter and on the coordinators' mailing list still came as a surprise.
OHM had previously been the subject of criticism, especially by people in Germany. In one of his Fnord news releases, blogger Felix von Leitner (who is also known under the nickname "Fefe") discouraged his readers from attending the hacker camp because the Dutch Fox-IT IT service provider would financially sponsor the camp as it had in 2009. Fox-IT develops DataDiode, a product that allows SCADA systems to be separated from the internet. The company also works with forensic solutions and uses them on behalf of the police and of legal authorities. Fox-IT became known internationally when the company uncovered the hacker intrusion into DigiNotar.
(Detlef Borchers / sno)