This Week in Vegas: DEF CON Does Repair
A panel at this year’s DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas will tackle the (strong) cybersecurity arguments for- and (lame) arguments against the right to repair.
DEF CON is the world’s premiere hacking conference. Now in its 30th year, the conference - a creation of cybersecurity luminary Jeff Moss (aka “Dark Tangent”) - is one of the premiere forums for the hacking community. Over the years, it has attracted the brightest minds in the hacking and information security communities to highlight the cybersecurity risks in implantable medical devices, voting machines, ATMs, cars and more.
To state it simply: DEF CON is where the cybersecurity community (not to be confused with the cybersecurity industry) comes together to talk about the things that really matter - to mess around and break stuff; to debate and discuss; to imagine a better (and more secure) future and do the hard work of making it happen.
That’s why I’m happy to announce that the right to repair is on the agenda DEF CON this year. On Saturday, August 13 at 10:00 AM, I will lead a panel of leading repair, legal and cybersecurity experts: Brazil Redux: Short Circuiting Tech-Enabled Dystopia with the Right to Repair.
Joining me on the panel are:
Louis Rossmann (@rossmannsupply | @fighttorepair) of YouTube fame and owner/proprietor of Rossmann Repair. Louis and his 1.7 million (!!) followers are on the front lines of the fight for the right to repair and have helped call out anti-repair bulls**t and advocate for new laws to protect the right to repair.
Corynne McSherry (@cmcsherr) is the Legal Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), where she specializes in intellectual property, open access, and free speech issues. Corynne has been in the trenches fighting for changes to laws like the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that have empowered software-based monopolies
Joe Grand (@joegrand) is a product designer, hardware hacker, the founder of Grand Idea Studio, Inc. and a world-renowned tinkerer and builder. Joe is DEF CON royalty having designed many of the show’s sophisticated, programmable badges. He specializes in creating, exploring, manipulating, and teaching about electronic devices.
So what’s the deal with the title? Well…it has to do with a classic, dark comedy from the mid 1980s: Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, which imagines a future polluted, hyper-consumerist and totalitarian dystopia in which a renegade heating engineer, Archibald Tuttle (played by Robert DeNiro) takes great risks to conduct repairs outside of the stifling and inefficient bureaucracy of “Central Services.” When Tuttle’s rogue repairs are detected, Central Services workers demolish and seize repaired systems under the pretext of “fixing” them.
Like I said: it’s dark. It's also not so far off from our present reality in which device makers use always-on Internet connections, DRM and expansive copyright and IP claims to sustain “Central Services”-like monopolies on the service and repair of appliances, agricultural and medical equipment, personal electronics and more. The net effect of this is a less- not more secure ecosystem of connected things that burdens consumers, businesses and the planet.
Our DEF CON panel of repair and cybersecurity experts will delve into how we’re closer to Gilliam’s dystopia than you might think. In the place of a brutal government bureaucracy, we’re fighting equally brutal and wealthy corporations that are using software based locks and anti-repair arguments trumpeting cybersecurity risks to lock in monopolies on aftermarket parts and service.
We’ll also examine how the emergent “right to repair” movement aims to dismantle this emerging “Brazil” style dystopia and lay the foundation for a “circular” economy that reduces waste while also ensuring better security and privacy protections for technology users.
This isn’t the only repair-focused talk however, Cory Doctorow will be taking part in a panel discussion of medical device repair with Christian "quaddi" Dameff and Jeff “r3plicant” Tully MD. The discussion, Literal Self-Pwning: Why Patients - and Their Advocates - Should Be Encouraged to Hack, Improve, and Mod Med Tech is (alas) taking place at the same time as the right to repair panel, but addresses many of the same issues. “As right to repair and other interoperability movements gain prominence, med-tech wants us to think that it's too life-or-death for modding. We think that med-tech is too life-or-death NOT to to be open, accountable and configurable by the people who depend on it.” The panel features two “hacker doctors” and a tech activist talk about who's on the right side of history and how the people on the wrong side of history are trying to turn you into a walking inkjet printer, locked into an app store.