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Internet Users Learn to Protect their Online Privacy at Crypto Parties

BY Lisa Goldman | Tuesday, October 9 2012

CryptoParty symbol taken from Wikipage.

Even in ostensibly transparent, democratic countries, personal cyber security is becoming a major concern for ordinary Internet users. Increasingly, people are aware that their privacy can be violated "legally" by the government, or by malicious individuals who are in the hacking business for money, thrills or both. Recently, for example, Wired staff writer Mat Honan described in an epic, emotional article how hackers took over and deleted his online life — including all the photos he had taken of his daughter since her birth.

Meanwhile, some liberal democracies are taking decidedly illiberal steps that effectively limit online freedom and privacy. Canada is considering legislation that would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to give police access to subscriber data without a warrant. And in Australia, the government is considering a proposal that would require ISPs to store their customers' data for a minimum of two years.

Comic from XKCD

Enter the CryptoParty — an ad hoc "movement" of events where people get together to learn how to protect their online privacy. Born in Australia, CryptoParties have gone global; events have been held in Sydney, Melbourne, Berlin, Cairo, Tel Aviv and several U.S. cities, with many more in the works. A Wikipage lists upcoming CryptoParties in locations as diverse as Dhaka, Bangladesh and Santiago, Chile. For instant updates, there is a CryptoParty Twitter account.

Australia's The Age reports on a crypto party that took place recently in Melbourne.

In a former cream factory in North Melbourne around 60 people nestled into beanbags, switched on their laptops and learned how to become anonymous.

The group gathered on Saturday night to take part in Melbourne's first Cryptoparty — a movement that started in this city with a tweet last month and has since spread to Egypt, Germany, the UK and the US.

The large space was dark except for a big screen at the front and the glow of dozens of computers perched upon people's knees.

Students, activists, mums and dads and computer developers helped themselves to soft drink, beers and lollies while a series of speakers taught people how to encrypt their online activity.

Well-known Melbourne Twitter identity Asher Wolf, who describes herself as an information activist, coined the term Cryptoparty on August 22, the day the controversial Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill passed the Senate.

"I wanted a party with crypto and laptops and music and beer," she said. "A party where people learnt how to protect their right to privacy."

Asher Wolf's (@asher_wolf) concerns about the proposed legislation are shared by Australian politician Malcolm Turnbull, the Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband. In the address he delivered yesterday for the 2012 Alfred Deakin Lecture on digital liberty, the minister said he had "grave misgivings" about the proposed legislation that would require ISPs to store customer data for two years. "Surely," said Minister Turnbull,

" we reflect on the consequences of the digital shift from a default of forgetting to one of perpetual memory we should be seeking to restore as far as possible the individual’s right not simply to their privacy but to having the right to delete that which they have created in the same way as can be done in the analogue world."

Meanwhile, Canada's Globe and Mail reports that Bill C-30, the government's "Internet spying bill," is stuck in limbo while the ruling Conservative party looks "for ways to redraft the bill to allay the concerns of privacy commissioners and of all Canadians who don’t want the government looking over their shoulder when they’re online." As if to prove it really does worry about its citizens' online privacy, the government announced that October would be the first Cyber Security Awareness Month.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.