There is No Party Like a CryptoParty

15/10/2012 09:48 BST | Updated 10/12/2012 10:12 GMT

All over the world a brand new kind of gatherings is emerging: CryptoParties. Don't be misled CryptoParties are not some sort of morbid, Halloween-like celebrations. Those geeky meetings are in fact a good opportunity for all to learn the art of encrypted communications and discuss privacy on the Internet.

Thus if you believe that when you have nothing to hide, your government should probably not be watching you; or if you think Google does not necessarily need to know what brand of underwear you like to buy, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for the next CryptoParty near you.

CryptoParties started with two tweets. "Basically, the Australian government passed some outrageously draconian legislation, that scared the cheese-balls out of everyone," recalls Asher Wolf, the information activist who originated the project. A few hours after the Australian Cyber Crime Bill passed, M1k3y, whom Asher Wolf defines as a "philosopher and futurist," tweeted: "ain't no party like a crypto apps install party." A few minutes later Wolf relied: "I want a HUGE Melbourne cryptoparty! BYO devices, beer, & music. Let's set a time and place :) Who's in?"

"By the time I'd had a cup of tea after tweeting the idea - I came back to the laptop and found Berlin, Canberra and Cascadia had already set dates. By the next morning, half a dozen more countries were calling for CryptoParties," says Asher Wolf.

Thus, last Saturday - over a month after Asher Wolf's tweet - the first London CryptoParty was held at the Google Campus in Shoreditch.

You may have noticed the irony of meeting at the head quarter of a company that has not exactly been championing privacy. Yes, it does sound a bit as if the Green Party had decided to hold its meeting at the headquarter of BP; but be reassured the involvement of Google did not go beyond lending their cafeteria (which looks like any other hipster café in Shoreditch) to the organisers from 6pm to 11 pm.

Thus, it does not prevent anyone at the party from reminding that Android phones should not be trusted as a secure means of communication more than IPhones are, and that you probably should consider using Duck Duck Go as a search engine if you don't want Google to know (and remember) what your favourite porn movie is.

The space is divided into different workshops - PGP, Tor Bundle, OTR, TrueCrypt - not always taught by experts, as every participant is invited to join and add to the conversation in a good "hacker space" spirit. Anyone interested in teaching a workshop simply has to add his/her name on the wiki, which for all CryptoParties has been the centre of the organisation.

This casual approach to knowledge makes it therefore quite easy for the complete beginners to approach this little world and get some hands-on knowledge, even when SSL is not their native language.

Among the geeks, journalists and activists have joined the party. Naomi Colvin, who was at the forefront of the London Occupy Movement, is for instance showing how to use the Off The Record messaging system Jabber, after she initiated Occupiers.

If this mix of experts and n00bs is unsettling for those accustomed to hacker conferences, CryptoParties are to that extent a new model. And as state surveillance and data retention is nowhere declining the model is likely to become a durable one.

The next CryptoParty in London will be held on October 19th at Mozilla Spaces.