KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Now, let's talk about cryptoparties. If you don't know what those are, they are more like workshops than parties. They're run by privacy advocates who want to make it harder for governments and companies to collect personal data. Jon Kalish went to a few cryptoparties in New York and sent this report.
JON KALISH, BYLINE: The people involved in organizing and promoting cryptoparties say the presidential elections spurred activists, journalists and everyday citizens to attend cryptoparties. One such organizer is a 27-year-old graduate student known as False Mirror. As you might expect from someone who fears government snooping, he asked us not to use his given name in order to protect his privacy.
FALSE MIRROR: I think before the election there was very little interest by most people about digital security. Even in activist spaces people had very much an attitude of, well, I'm not hiding anything, and the cops can see me sharing cat memes or whatever and kind of not valuing privacy.
KALISH: And that may be changing. Matt Mitchell is a security researcher who runs a monthly cryptoparty in Harlem. He teaches people about so-called circumvention technologies.
MATT MITCHELL: Anything from the Signal app, which allows you to use data instead of cell towers to make voice calls and send text messages, to a Tor Browser which allows you to browse the internet and no one knows that it's you. They don't know where you are. They don't know who you were.
KALISH: About 100 people turned out for a recent cryptoparty at the office of Verso Books in Brooklyn. One of the presenters was Harlo Holmes.
HARLO HOLMES: Cryptoparties did not spring up overnight. They've been around for years. Cryptoparties have always been a kind of refuge for people who need to take control of what they use.
KALISH: Holmes is director of newsroom digital security for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to defending public interest journalism. Participants at cryptoparties are encouraged to bring their laptops. At this gathering, groups of 10 to 20 people sat in circles to focus on such areas as dating apps and encrypted email. Bex Hurwitz led a group discussing contacts kept on smartphones.
BEX HURWITZ: One thing that we might think about is how much information is stored on the phone itself, make a smaller digital trail behind us and keep a smaller digital pile in our pockets. It's also possible to, like, store data about contacts somewhere off your phone.
KALISH: Another Brooklyn crypto gathering took place at an anarchist community center filled with funky furnishings and posters for various left wing causes. Members of the NYC Crypto Squad met to organize a rather analog project, a zine focused on crypto issues. Two women in attendance are software engineers who've created a new website called So You Want To Fight The State. The site offers tutorials on password managers, am alternative search engine and phone passcodes, which they say are handy if you don't want the cops to know about your anarcho-syndicalist knitting group. Software engineer Amy Ciavolino helped create the site.
AMY CIAVOLINO: With the election, there's a lot more people thinking about activism and security around that. And a lot of the tutorials and things are not friendly, they're kind of hard to consume. So we wanted to make one that was friendly and fun (laughter) 'cause you're like, oh, it's fun to, like, learn how to protect my data.
KALISH: Harlem cryptoparty founder Matt Mitchell says both the tools and attitudes surrounding these crypto issues are evolving.
MITCHELL: I never thought I'd see a day where there'd be a security section of your phone. I never thought there'd be a day where it's like encrypt area of your phone or privacy section of your phone, but people started asking for it after a lot of news stories, after a lot of revelations.
KALISH: Some in law enforcement have raised concerns about strong encryption. That includes FBI director James Comey, who says it will adversely affect public safety, particularly in the battle against ISIS whose operatives he says increasingly use encrypted messaging apps. These issues of privacy and security are likely to be debated at a cryptoparty near you. For NPR News, I'm John Kalish in New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.