I’m sitting in Berlin, slowly returning to consensus reality after an intense week at the Chaos Communication Congress.

The CCC is close to indescribable. It’s a huge computer security conference, whose speakers routinely turn up and announce they have broken some key part of the world’s technical infrastructure. But the real action happens in the halls full of friends and tinkerers, working together on an unfathomably large collection of technical

Most importantly for me: it is socially and politically engaged, far beyond what you might encounter elsewhere in the technical world. I don’t mean just the deliberately political areas like ‘noisysquare’, where I spent most of my time, but the pervading attitude throughout the congress. Distrust of authority, desire to build an internet that resists censorship and surveillance, and a deep concern with the social implications of our work.

This year some fake ‘recruiters’ pranked the conference, with the help of the organizers. They approached some 500 attendees with job offers from a dubious-sounding private security firm. To the general pride of the congress almost all rejected the offer; the few who didn’t were taken aside, told about the prank, and asked to reconsider their morals.

I heard the Congress compared a few times to Burning Man. That more shows the lack of other reference points than any real similarity. Still, there was something burner-ish about the reappropriated police truck in the basement, complete with water cannon (“liquid democracy”) and covered in dancers and partiers. And then there was the mile-long series of tubes carrying messages across the building, pneumatically powered by a phalanx of vacuum cleaners. And the French digital rights contingent in their curtained enclave quietly drinking tea on low tables — an atmosphere designed to calm those in altered states, whether chemical or the sheer joy of hacking.

Going to the Congress feels increasingly like coming home, even if it’s a home I only see each year. It’s one of few environments that can make me feel simultaneously relaxed and inspired — awestruck and accepted by a crowd of incredible people, daunted by their accomplishments and aware of how much work needs to be done. It’ll be in my mind until the end of 2014.

For extra fun, here is a TV report from the first Congress in 1984. It’s still a surprisingly good description of themes that have stayed with the CCC for three decades: unease around journalists, data protection, legal wrangles and long nights of hacking

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