One day after announcing Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, as its keynoter, organizers of the 2019 Black Hat security conference promptly revoked the invitation.
“Black Hat has chosen to remove U.S. Representative Will Hurd, as our 2019 Black Hat USA keynote,” conference leadership said in a statement posted on the event’s website. “We misjudged the separation of technology and politics. We will continue to focus on technology and research; however we recognize that Black Hat USA is not the appropriate platform for the polarizing political debate resulting from our choice of speaker. We are still fully dedicated to providing an inclusive environment and apologize that this decision did not reflect that sentiment.”
According to multiple reports, Black Hat’s 180-degree turn appears to be in response to backlash on Twitter and elsewhere from members of the cybercommunity critical of the conservative, pro-life politician’s track record on women’s rights issues.
“A keynote from a lawmaker who doesn’t believe women should have fundamental human rights is not a great way make women feel welcome in the infosec community,” read one tweet by Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
But Black Hat’s removal of Hurd also triggered a second wave of complaints on Twitter from those who accused conference organizers of caving in to pressure and silencing the congressman for reasons that are unrelated to cybersecurity.
“I don’t agree with this decision. I think we can stand to hear sense from Hurd on cybersecurity without endorsing his other, less sophisticated views. I don’t think we have to agree with everything someone says in order to listen to them,” commented one Twitter user, in reply to Black Hat after conference organizers tweeted about rescinding Hurd’s keynote status.
Others said they were happy with conference’s decision, suggesting that Black Hat should be a politics-free zone. “Excellent. Now please ensure that these events remain free from Politicians,” read one such tweet in reply to Black Hat’s announcement that it had removed Hurd.
A former undercover CIA officer and erstwhile senior adviser to the cybersecurity firm FusionX, Hurd is known for being a champion of cybersecurity legislation. Just last Wednesday, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform advanced the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2019 introduced by Hurd and Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill. If passed, the legislation, designated H.R.1668, would require IoT devices purchased by the U.S. government to meet certain established security requirements for protecting data and networks.
The bill serves as companion legislation to S.734, a version of the act that was separately introduced in the Senate by Sens. Mark R. Warner, D-Va.; Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; and Steve Daines, R-Mont.
“Hurd… has continued to make technology his priority moving into 2019, listing artificial intelligence, helping federal agencies address critical technology issues, and a new cybersecurity scholarship program as his to-dos to help modernize and secure the government,” said the original Black Hat announcement that had named Hurd as the keynote speaker.
Hurd’s office and Black Hat have not responded to SC Media’s request for comment.