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House of Cards called on Boston hacker Gregg Housh to give series’ tech an authentic touch

If you’ve seen – or binge watched – House of Cards, you’re probably already obsessed. So prepare to be jealous of Gregg Housh.

As a consultant for the show’s second season, Housh hung out with stars Kevin Spacey and Jimmi Simpson on set, while lending insight to the plot on technology and hacktivism.

Today, Housh lives just outside of Boston with his wife and her children. He also helped popularize Anonymous, spent time in federal prison after facing sealed charges, and describes himself as “Mr. Fun-Computer-Criminal-Guy in the 90s.”

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I caught up with him to find out what it was like to work on House of Cards. Here is an edited version of that interview.

How was it working on the show, and what was the best part?

It was more fun than I can possibly describe. I’m a huge fan, so when they came at me I couldn’t believe it. My favorite part was this scene in episode seven where the president and Spacey are in the White House in the Oval Office. In between takes, [Spacey] would turn around and just start talking to me. We’re having this long conversation, and every time, the director is looking at me like, ‘Turn him around please!’ And Spacey really wanted to hang out, which was so cool ’cause he’s my favorite actor.

What technological aspects did you contribute to the show?

It turns out that all of those monitors don’t do anything live. You get green-screened and then something done in Adobe Director gets put on them. My problem is that it could be more realistic, so we had to fight to get the company making it to do more realistic stuff than usual. We got IRC [Internet Relay Chat] on there, a bitcoin miner, and Tor with the logo so you can really see it’s Tor.

Why was it so important to you that it was realistic?

The creators and writers at House of Cards want things to come off as authentic as they can which really convinced me to want to work with them. I wasn’t going to have to work with some stupid 3D screen where there’s six monitors facing different directions, all cool and hip looking. I was gonna get to work with a setup I was familiar with, and tell them what software should be displayed. That was key, I think, to [Gavin Orsay’s] character – it made him believable.

Your good friend Barrett Brown is mentioned in this sub-plot. He’s in prison facing 105 years for posting a link to leaked information, but explain for people who don’t know – who is he?

Barrett is someone I consider a really good friend. He’s a wonderful guy to know, and he’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. [When we met] he was doing mostly journalism stuff. One day he wrote a piece about Anonymous as the end of the nation-state. It was very interesting to me, so I reached out, and invited him to some Anonymous IRC’s and showed him around. From that point on, he was hooked. In a sense I feel responsible for where everything ended up. His own actions led to a lot of this, but I’m the guy who brought him around it, even if he eventually may have gotten there himself.

What do you think the consequences for journalism could be if he’s convicted?

The consequences for journalism are dire. You know why freedom of the press is in the First Amendment? Because its one of the most important pieces of the entire document. It’s not in the 14th, not in the 20th, not in the 50th we put out in a hundred years. It’s in the first. You can hate Barrett Brown and it means nothing to me, and it should mean nothing to you. What should matter is, do you want these charges to set precedents?

Why was his mention important for the show?

It’s interesting because the show itself is about politics, but doesn’t have a political opinion. They didn’t mention Barrett Brown because it helps Barrett Brown, they mentioned Barrett Brown because it adds a real sense of authenticity to the character and to that part of the story line.

Alyssa Edes is a freelancer for The Hive. Follow her on Twitter @alyssaedes.

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