NO SECURITY: Phreaking Out The Phone Phreaks Part 2- Resistance

NO SECURITY is a new, semi-regular dispatch about tech history, and (sub)culture in the underground and abroad.

To follow up on my last NO SECURITY dispatch, there is another aspect to the origin story of contemporary mass surveillance in the US: Resistance. While most "phone phreaks" and telephone enthusiasts were unaware of AT&T's Top Secret Project Greenstar, there was enough general contempt for the phone company's monopoly to trigger a viable resistance movement that was percolating within the 1960s counterculture.

In the 1960s and 1970s (yes, before 2600 Hacker Quarterly), there was a cleverly named magazine called TAP, which first stood for Technical American Party, and was later changed to Technical Assistance Party. It was the first publication devoted to phone phreaking/hacking. The publication was originally called YIPL (Youth International Party Line) but decided on the name change as its focus narrowed towards being the technology-based extension of the Yippies' brand of anarchism.

The term Yippie was coined by comedian and activist Paul Krassner who was a founding member along with famous anarchists: Abbie Hoffman, Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, The Yippies were the political radicalization of the hippie movement. The exploits of the Yippies have been well documented, particularly their protest at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention protest and subsequent trial. However TAP survived long after the Yippie's political heyday.

TAP was published by Long Island based Yippie "Phone Phreak" Al Bell (a clever play on Ma Bell) wanted to focus on the mechanics and politics of phone phreaking. TAP's content ranged from finding ways to rip off the phone company to the notorious publication of atomic bomb plans. The publication was also funny; the article titled "Spiro Agnew is an Anagram for Grow A Penis" is a good example of this.

While most "Phone Phreaks" just wanted to make free phone calls, YIPL/ TAP co-founder and renowned Yippie radical, Abbie Hoffman, conscientiously ripped off the phone company as a form of protest. Since the Spanish American War, an excise tax has been introduced in times of war in the U.S. It's a tax that is commonly paid for by producers and retailers, but hidden from consumers. AT&T being a government regulated utility introduced an excise tax during the Vietnam War, which was a good excuse to get one over on AT&T and make free calls with a Blue Box.

I interviewed former hacker, Patrick Kroupa for my as of yet untitled Hacker documentary. Kroupa was only 13 when he started attending TAP meetings in the early 1980s. At that time, most of the Yippies were still engaged in counterculture even though the 60s were over. These meetings were held in New York City and later at the recently closed Yippie Museum at 9 Bleecker Street. Kroupa crossed paths with counterculture legends such as John "Cap'N Crunch" Draper, Herbert Hunke, and most importantly, Dana Beal. Beal is now, "serving some time over a misunderstanding involving 300 lbs. of medical marijuana," according to Kroupa.

Later Kroupa and future collaborator Bruce Fancher joined the infamous Legion of Doom hacker gang, headed by Lex Luthor and went on to found the New York based internet service provider, MindVox. However, this is a whole other chapter in the history of hacking subculture.

In an email from Mr. Kroupa addressing the 21st century mass surveillance in the context of being a teen at TAP, he wrote:

"I think, stripped of all bullshit, the #1 most important purpose of government is to perpetuate itself. We live in a post-privacy era, because it's possible to do what they're doing on a large scale, and it's not ever going to stop. Cryptography, self-empowerment and knowledge of how little privacy you have left, and/or being a Luddite, all work. Never mind hackers, mostly all drug dealers that thrive and survive, know all this: walking into a 'meeting' with a smartphone equals about the same reception as showing up with a bomb strapped to you. Phones in general are all bad, except payphones, if you can still find such a dinosaur; late-model cars are bad; cars with wireless tire-pressure sensors are bad; what's good are open spaces, in the middle of nowhere, where you can have a conversation in person."