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Chaos computer camp challenges power and the zombie apocalypse


Chaos Communication Camp 2015, Ziegeleipark Mildenberg near Berlin, Germany. MeTaMiND EvoLuTioN MeTaVoLuTioN under a Creative Commons Licence

Ásta Guðrún Helgadóttir reports from a hackers’ gathering where things are broken to be fixed and made better.

Entering the Chaos Communication Camp (CCCamp) is like watching the internet detangle itself from the web. The CCCamp is held every 4 years in Germany and more than 10,000 hackers, nerds, geeks – even some ‘normal-ish’ people! – attend from all over the world. It is largely self-organized through wikis, IRC channels, email lists and Twitter. It is the place where the internet goes beyond the monitor and the virtual world shifts to become face-to-face.

The CCCamp resembles a music festival, but is more organized, with different mini-camps within it dedicated to various hacking activities or political causes. Instead of bands on stage playing their loud music, there are talks about robotics, copyright, identity or encryption. This is a place to learn, share and experience, to have your ideas challenged, and to meet friends (or enemies) that you have made online. There are camps dedicated to teaching bio-hacking, soldering, making the perfect cup of tea, or just building whatever you feel like.

In fact, if I could choose where to be if and when the zombie apocalypse happens, it would be the CCCamp. Although by accident, no other place on earth is as well prepared for one – and a fair number of attendees have probably made plans for it.

Within this hacker camp, there is disregard for formal power structures, making it an interesting place to observe political dynamics and decision-making. The only rule is: ‘Be excellent to each other.’

The decision-making within the camp can’t really be regarded as democracy so much as ‘do-ocracy’. The inherent dislike of formal governing structures prevalent within hacker communities means that there is an unwritten rule that those who have put effort into making the camp real have more to say on any given issue.

During an electric storm over the weekend, the camp organizers tried to make sure everyone was safe by evacuating the tents. Whereas most camps begrudgingly accepted enforced relocation because of the weather, the anarchist camp just said ‘thanks for the heads-up’ and didn’t go anywhere. One does not simply order an anarchist camp to relocate!

The ‘shaping’ of hacker identity happens during the camp, not only through communication and knowledge-sharing, but also through the use of labels, or stickers, which indicate who we are and what we support. Sticker-sharing is an important part of camp – and for the hacker community as a whole. The stickers make it possible to recognize each other on the road, in airports or at formal conferences. They can promote a service, such as the Tor browser (which enables users to surf the internet with a greater degree of anonymity) or the Transparency toolkit (which gathers open-source data on surveillance and human rights abuses and makes free software to examine it). The stickers can reveal which other conferences we have attended, show explicit support for Chelsea Manning, (the alleged source of some of WikiLeaks’ biggest bombshell publications to date), or they can simply be a meme. The stickers are in constant circulation, in all colours and shapes.

We break things to fix them, and fix them to learn about the structures, to make them better, faster, harder and, sometimes, technically illegal.

Ásta Guðrún Helgadóttir is an incoming member of the Icelandic Parliament for the Pirate Party. Ásta has worked with Icelandic Modern Media Initiative on censorship, copyright and, briefly, in the European Parliament. She has also worked with the Tactical Tech Collective and most recently at the Democratic Society at an EU level.

For more on Democracy in the Digital Era, read the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of New Internationalist.

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