U.S. Congressman Will Hurd has been disinvited to the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas this year where he was set to deliver a keynote address after questions were raised about his voting record.
Members of the security community this week drew attention to Hurd’s record on women’s issues, including the right to abortion, with some directly rebuking Black Hat over the decision to invite Hurd. TechCrunch first reported the story on Thursday.
Black Hat initially signaled that it had no intention to disinvite Hurd, telling TechCrunch reporter Zack Whittaker that the congressman had been a big proponent of cybersecurity initiatives in Congress while lauding his “strong background” in computer science and information security. “He will offer the Black Hat audience a unique perspective of the infosec landscape and its effect on the government,” an event spokesperson said.
But on Friday, Black Hat said it had “misjudged the separation of technology and politics.” In a statement to Gizmodo, an event spokesperson said that the conference would “continue to focus on technology and research,” but that it also recognizes that Black Hat “is not the appropriate platform for the polarizing political debate resulting from our choice of speaker.”
Hurd’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We are still fully dedicated to providing an inclusive environment and apologize that this decision did not reflect that sentiment,” it said.
Hurd is a U.S. congressman from Texas who assumed office in 2015. He represents a predominately Latinx district along the U.S.-Mexico border reaching from El Paso to San Antonio. He is the only black Republican serving at this time.
Hurd, whose background includes nine years at the Central Intelligence Agency, is a staunch opponent of abortion rights. NARAL, a leading pro-choice organization, gives him a zero percent score on legislation related to a women’s right to choose. He’s voted to defund Planned Parenthood; prohibit insurance companies from covering abortion procedures, and to prohibit Medicaid payments to healthcare providers that perform abortions.
He’s also drawn the ire of women rights’ advocates and allies for voting against a 2015 bill intended to boost the participation of women in STEM fields.
Black Hat’s initial decision to invite Hurd to keynote its 2019 conference follows two years’ worth of reports concerning women being mistreated at hacker conferences, including a wave of sexual harassment allegations in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
In 2016, a Motherboard article detailed several accounts of women being physically assaulted at such events, some of which are notorious for late-night after-parties and heavy drinking. Most such incidents go unreported.
“If women don’t feel safe in the areas where their profession grows and learns and shares intelligence, they are left behind,” security researcher Jessy Irwin told Motherboard at the time. “This is a huge problem in terms of professional advancement, and it sucks.”
Update, 5:30pm: Rep. Hurd’s communications director, Katie Thompson, sent Gizmodo the following statement:
Representative Hurd was honored to be invited and hopes that the Black Hat Conference is a success. Congressman Hurd has always sought to engage groups of people that don’t necessarily agree with all of his votes or opinions. That’s why Rep. Hurd is one of the loudest voices for bipartisanship in Congress. This Congress alone he voted for equal pay for equal work, for the Violence Against Women Act and the Equality Act.
Not to mention Congressman Hurd would have brought the prospective [sic] of a person of color and someone who served our nation abroad