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New York City Hackers (2000)
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New York City Hackers (2000)

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New York City Hackers is an independent documentary by Stig-Lennart Sorensen released in the year 2000. Most of the filming occurs in in New York at the H2K conference, 2600 meeting and an Off the Hook radio show. There is also a coverage of the original MIT hackers from the TMRC club.

The documentary explores the hacker culture by distinguishing computer hackers from common criminals. In the very beginning the viewer is presented with a segment from Off the Hook radio show where Emmanuel Goldstein, the show’s host, uses Kevin Mitnick as an example of a hacker distinct from people perpetrating destructive denial of service (DoS) attacks against websites. Not everybody with access to tools and resources to pull off a successful DoS attack is a hacker, Emmanuel observes. Cheshire Catalyst describes hacking as a process of hacking away at a keyboard until computer does what you want it to do. He also contrasts true hackers with sensationalized “14 year olds twerps who crack into computers” also described as crackers.

In order to track down the historical meaning of the word hacker, NYC hackers moves to MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club or TMRC. TMRC attracted a lot of electrical engineering hackers in the 1960s who liked solving logic problems presented by the electro-mechanical train control system at the club. Alan Kotok, one of the original MIT hackers, describes how he slowly progressed to hacking on a TX-0 and the telephone system. Alan recognizes the grand temptation of hackers to demonstrate their full mastery of a system by getting it to do things that it wasn’t intended to do.

At a monthly 2600 meeting, Mike Hudack, a chief scientists at a security company, notes that meeting’s attendees are mostly made up of people who wish to be hackers rather than actual hackers. The reason for this is simply the fear for actual hackers to appear at such public meetings due to crackdowns by law enforcement agencies which tend to assume computer hackers as guilty before proven otherwise.

The last two segments of the documentary describe two significant political and legal issues that hackers are involved in. As Cheshire Catalyst describes it, hackers would much rather spend their time dealing with technical challenges. However, because politics is invading the technology, hackers are becoming more involved in politics to voice their opinions. The first example of hackers getting entangled in politics is the legal action that MPAA took against 2600 magazine after the latter mirrored DeCSS code, a program used to break DVD protection mechanism. The second example of hackers getting politically involved is the issue of government controlled Internet. According to Eugene Kashpureff, the US government controls IP address allocation, domain name space and governs how the Tier 1 Internet providers can do their business. All of these control mechanisms effectively translates to a complete government control which impedes people’s basic rights of freedom of speech and freedom of privacy.