40 years ago, the Chaos Computer Club was founded in Germany. Steffen Wernéry was there from the beginning. That’s why he’s already been in prison. Spectacular hacks, even into Nasa’s computers, made the Chaos Computer Club famous in the eighties.
It was seen as a Robin Hood-like hacker gang that is always a little smarter than the powerful and beats them with their own means: the computers . Steffen Wernéry joined shortly after its founding on 12 September 1981 and was at the forefront of the club’s transformation from a nerd regulars’ table to a well-known hacker club.
Today, the club claims to have 8,000 members and hosts one of the world’s largest hacker conventions. The basic philosophy has remained the same: The Chaos Computer Club wants to draw attention to the social consequences of technology and sees hacking as an instrument of enlightenment.
How does your history with the Chaos Computer Club begin?
Steffen Wernéry: It was in 1983 in the left-wing bookshop “Schwarzmarkt” in Hamburg. I had read online that the Chaos Computer Club was meeting there. I hoped to be able to exchange passwords there.
Steffen Wernéry: The internet didn’t exist back then, only individual computers on the telephone network. When you found other computers, you wanted to have a look at them. For example, into databases or via the computers of newspapers to the news of agencies in the USA. And the passwords were exchanged with each other.
And did you get any?
Steffen Wernéry: Unfortunately, no. I had to find out that no one from the Chaos Computer Club was online yet. Nevertheless, the visit changed my life. Because I met the founder of the club, Wau Holland. He talked about the computer not only being for the administration and surveillance of citizens. Citizens themselves should use it, for exchange and transparency. He wanted the machine-readable government instead of the machine-readable citizen. That made sense to me. From then on, I was in.