Defcon to feds: 'We need some time apart'

In the wake of revelations about the NSA's PRISM program, Defcon's founder asks federal government employees to skip this year's hacker convention.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

The federal government is persona non grata at this year's Defcon.

For the first time in the 21-year history of the famed hacker's convention, government employees are being asked to stay away, albeit in a polite fashion.

Defcon founder Jeff Moss, aka The Dark Tangent, posted the following request late Wednesday on the event's site:

Feds, we need some time apart.

For over two decades DEF CON has been an open nexus of hacker culture, a place where seasoned pros, hackers, academics, and feds can meet, share ideas and party on neutral territory. Our community operates in the spirit of openness, verified trust, and mutual respect.

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 DEF CON this year.

This will give everybody time to think about how we got here, and what comes next.

The Dark Tangent

Moss, who also advises the Department of Homeland Security on security issues, told Reuters he believes that Defcon community members need time to wrap their heads around the recent leaks about U.S. surveillance programs.

"The community is digesting things that the feds have had a decade to understand and come to terms with," Moss told Reuters. "A little bit of time and distance can be a healthy thing, especially when emotions are running high."

But Defcon won't be hiring a bunch of bouncers to throw out the feds.

"We are not going on a witch hunt or checking IDs and kicking people out," Moss added.

Defcon, which is set for August 1 to 4 in Las Vegas, has always been geared toward hackers, researchers, and other security devotees. But employees from the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and other government branches have been welcome and have attended for many years.

Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency, even gave a keynote speech at last year's event. Alexander was asked at the time whether the government was snooping on its citizens and denied that the NSA was gathering information on all Americans.