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Hacking Away Under the Sunshine

Europe's biggest meeting of computer hackers ends Sunday in a wilderness camp outside Berlin that is, of course, wired to the hilt.


Bonding in the glow of the computer screen.

Under white tents and overhangs that provide shade in 90 degree temperatures, cables snake out in the most wired campground in the world.

The computers and laptops hooked to the cables belong more than 1,000 hackers who descended on a horse field in Altlandsberg 30 kilometers outside of Berlin from Thursday until Sunday for the "Chaos Communication Camp." Sponsored by the Chaos Computer Club, Germany's storied organization of hackers, the four-day event is both an opportunity to discuss to what extent laws passed after Sept. 11 infringed on the Internet and a chance to exchange tips and program en masse.

A row of strange-looking " Data Toilets," whose insides have been cut out in favor of routers and hubs, provide campers whose cables reach far enough with a free connection to the Internet.

"The entire camp is hooked to a beam-radio antenna with 255 mega-bit capacity, which is then hooked to the next fiber-optic knot," said Patrik, a camp administrator, who like many gives only his first or hacker name. The set-up is enough not only to power the camp, but a small town as well.

Clamping down on the freedom of the Internet

When they're not surfing or programming, the camp participants are in the "Hack Center" attending seminars and trading ideas. Highlights this time around include the music and film industry's drive to hinder online music databases and post-Sept. 11 laws.

"The attacks … brought a flood of law tightening in the area of the Internet as well, " CCC's Andy Müller-Maguhn told Deutsche Welle. "We're focusing on mechanisms through which the industry can remove the control the user has over his computer."

Another flashpoint is what's called digital rights management, or DRM. Music and film companies claim DRM will in the future protect against the online piracy of commercially marketed material. The argument rings hollow for groups like the CCC who say that profit, not the material of their artists, is driving the industry's campaign. At the end of the long day's discussion, a night of merry-making begins. The glowing screens are shut down and campers make their way to a fully-stocked bar where they can enjoy the hacker's drink, Club-Mate, a cold sparkling drink that tastes a bit like tea. Massive lights keep the party going until the early morning, when the night owls search for their sleeping bags and the early-risers begin to snap open their laptops.

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