- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2013

It’s official: The love affair between hackers and feds is over, thanks to revelations about National Security Agency snooping and what many see as overly harsh or misdirected prosecutions of “hacktivists.”

But it’s not clear whether the two are splitsville forever or just taking a time-out.

DefCon, the biggest annual U.S. conference for computer hackers, last year featured the director of the National Security Agency as its keynote speaker — and his agency operated a kiosk, where it handed out tchotchkes, brochures and job applications.

DefCon founder Jeff Moss says law enforcement and intelligence officials should stay away this year.

“Feds, we need some time apart,” Mr. Moss, the hacker known as “Dark Tangent,” wrote late Wednesday on his blog, prompting a lively Internet discussion about the ethics and wisdom of the attempted exclusion — and the changing character of the hacker community itself.

DefCon, which last year was attended by an estimated 13,000 people, has long been “a place where seasoned pros, hackers, academics, and feds can meet, share ideas and party on neutral territory,” Mr. Moss wrote.

He added: “When it comes to sharing and socializing with feds, recent revelations have made many in the community uncomfortable about this relationship. Therefore, I think it would be best for everyone involved if the feds call a ‘time-out’ and not attend DefCon this year.”

According to his Twitter feed, Mr. Moss was traveling Thursday, and neither he nor any other organizer responded to emails requesting comment.

Many DefCon veterans welcomed the move, widely interpreted as a reaction to revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the agency’s massive data-gathering about Americans’ phone calls.

In previous years, “the U.S. Government recruiters were incredibly rude and creepy, with little to no transparency” about what they were recruiting for, wrote a former DefCon volunteer organizer, using the handle Nulltone.

The former organizer compared U.S. government recruiters to representatives of foreign intelligence services, who “were actually incredibly polite and understood that transparency was appreciated.”

The NSA did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s the right move,” Kevin Gallagher, director of the Free Barrett Brown Campaign, said of DefCon’s proposed ban on intelligence and law enforcement.

Mr. Gallagher said the unease in the hacker community stems from not just the revelations about the NSA’s data-gathering, but also how the FBI and the Justice Department had moved aggressively to prosecute certain hackers.

Barrett Brown, a freelance journalist from Dallas, faces more than 100 years in prison after being indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of trafficking in stolen goods after he shared a link to data taken by hackers from the computer network of private intelligence firm Stratfor. He has spent 10 months in jail awaiting trial.

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