Book Review: +KAOS Ten years of Hacking and Media Activism

Autistici/Inventati
139pp
Link to book.

Autistici/Inventati (A/I) is an Italian activist tech collective which provides email accounts, mailing lists, webhosting and other techtools to a scarily high proportion of Italian speaking activists in the anticapitalist movement. English speaking activists will no doubt be more familiar with their American comrades Riseup, who perform a similar function. In a post-Snowden world, these activist infrastructures are creaking under the weight of the new subscribers who suddenly prefer to use an email provider which doesn’t handover personal data when the state comes knocking. Groups like these, plus other providers like squat.net, nadir, blackblogs and network23 are doing incredible, often unappreciated work to preserve internet freedom and to facilitate activist organisation (send them a donation!). This book, originally written in Italian and published in 2012, was aimed at recording the various histories of the A/I collective at 10 years old and in their own words. A bit later on, they have managed to release the book translated into English and also have made it available for free download. They promise to write another book at 20!

I always wondered who would be behind a collective like A/I and where it came from, so it was super interesting to hear about the influences of the European Counter Network (ECN), the squatted social centre movement, the NoTAV (antihighspeed train network) protests and of course Indymedia (RIP). This quote explains it well: “A/I was a child of a certain cultural soil, of a wide community, with borders which were neither definite nor definable, but if you were within them you knew what they were talking about.” I also was curious about the name itself, and now I know that Autistici means “autistic”, and Inventati means “invented.” The combi-name is easily explained, two collectives from Florence and Milan joined together and each wanted to preserve their own name!

It was fascinating to read that at least at first, there was only one single mailing list to organise A/I (no division between tech and front end) and indeed the idea was for everyone to have root on the first server (“what we did was insane from a technical standpoint but it had a political meaning for us”)! The self-organised DiY ethic runs strongly throughout the book, with a good example being from 2006, when the Hackmeeting “occupied a building in Parma, hooked up water, power and internet and celebrated their annual and cathartic meeting of nerds and kindred spirits.”

Of course, the Genoa G8 protests were massive for the Italian scene and feature in some detail in the book, alongside the horrendous police violence which happened immediately afterwards at the Diaz School. As a minor point, the story also finds room to explain that there were some people before the G8 who were asking “why should we walk into a trap?” and “why the fuck are we going there to get beaten up?” so they decided instead to organise a huge rave on the beach at Varazze … in consequence, “in Varazze they shat a brick because fifty something people really did show up and found the city militarized.”

The story bops around entertainingly between technical disasters and legal victories, always with a sense of humour. Just like Ferrybyte, who contributes the first introduction, I “gobbled up” this book, since it is a remarkable invitation to hear the inside story of a hacktivist collective which has grown into a massive service provider without losing its radical roots. A/I does amazing work and of course has had to fight like fuck to survive in a climate like Berlusconi’s Italy. Naturally, the problems with state surveillance and attacks on civil liberties continue into the present. Just a few weeks ago (in September 2017) an A/I admin account was compromised. With characteristic speed and assurance, A/I quickly sent out a mail in Italian, Spanish and English which outlined the extent of the problem and warned people in easy to understand language to change passwords as a security requirement.

The book ends all too soon and a bit abruptly, but what’s important is that A/I is still out there, fighting for a secure and free internet.

Spaceman