Running Toddler and Jennifer Radloff interview c5 and Anonymous – part 2.
The Association for Progressive Communication (APC) in partnership with the Violence is not our Culture Campaign (VNC) and Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC)recently hosted a workshop for women human rights defenders to train in secure online communications. It is part of an APC project Connect Your Rights! where APC is documenting trends, lobbying for internet rights and training activists in how to use technology securely.
A participant, Running Toddler, interviewed the trainers, c5 and anonymous, on their experience in training activists and human rights defenders to use technology securely and the contradictions inherent in communicating safely as feminists and women's human rights defenders and in the technology which can both serve us and put us at risk.
All chose to not be identified by their given names as there are risks attached to being identified as promoting and capacitating activists to use technology securely. And in making visible the ways in which repressive states and their supporters can track and trace defenders using the same technologies which defenders can use to communicate and create change.
Read also the part 1 of this interview with c5 and anonymous: The changing face of women's rights activism: be careful what you say online
RT – Can you give us some good examples that speak to the way that women human rights defenders have used technology to rally support?
Anonymous – For example the Pink Chaddi campaign in India. In 2009 a group of right wing conservative men beat up women in a pub in response to a call by a Mr. Muthalik, leader of a conservative Hindu group. Muthalik's group derides the "erosion" of traditional Indian values, especially sex before marriage, and so, shortly after the incident he threatened to target couples found dating on Valentine's day and forcing them to marry.
In response, on Valentines day, women from all over India sent pink chaddi (underwear) to the office of Mr. Muthalik. The violence against the women was documented and posted on the internet and the internet amplified the campaign and opened up debates. Without the internet you would not be able to have a big rally of support unless mainstream media picks it up. But even then it cannot be sustained as traditional media picks up on news which has a profit benefit. But on the internet profit is secondary when you have people who are concerned about the issues and can fan the flames of protest.
RT– Did this campaign change behaviour?
Anonymous – From the words of campaigners, they started a conversation whereas prior it was not spoken about. It might not have changed the behaviour of people or the group committing the violence but it opened up conversations with other groups which is a success of the project.
c5 – Blank Noise is another story. It started in a city in India and expanded to other cities to highlight issues of urban sexual harassment. First they gathered as many stories as possible and then gathered strategies of how to combat urban harassment. Since then, they have moved from the internet to physical spaces such as theatres. When they started they contacted other feminist bloggers to blog about their experiences from everywhere and then they decided to focus on cities in India. First they amplified it and then they focused on geographical areas where they were most concerned.
In Philippines there is STRAP (Society for Transsexual Women in Philippines). Their blog receives horrible comments from religious right groups. They have even received death threats. The way they have rallied around it is to not raise the issues too much but when someone says that on a blog post they take it as an opportunity to engage that person in debate.
RT – You mentioned raising surveillance and consciousness around the internet and the risks to women human rights defenders. How effective is it to work at changing laws and policies?
Anonymous – The internet is a good documenter. For example, policy on human rights abuses can be influenced by examples documented on the internet. The challenge is actually how you get the stream of documentation going as it is taxing to do it. A friend in a country (we can't name because of security reasons) – consciously started including more women in secure online communications trainings. He insisted on 50/50 participants which was a big jump from other trainings we did. Some women in these trainings had had death threats on their smart phones. We did not simply throw away the threats but we decided to record the threats and when we have amassed a number, people can listen to the threats. This is an example of documentation. Sometimes it is difficult to document. Now you can just document easily. As c5 said about blogs, the harassment in written word is a built in documentation system. If you have large amount of documentation then it can aid in policy making as you have a basis and evidence.
c5 – The cautionary thing about policy is that personally I think policy is always reactionary. There are very few policies that exist specifically with regard to digital technology which is not reactionary or aimed towards controlling behaviour on the internet. Any policy that promotes surveillance of the internet is borne out of a need to control the internet. The most upsetting thing about that specifically in the Philippines is that they are using the documented cases of women being harassed online to regulate the internet. As far as the internet is concerned, any policy is a suggestion. Because the technology is open enough to make it so. And this is true for any country.
Anonymous – Any policy needs to have some enforcement as well and without enforcement it will not work. You can create policy but who will enforce the policy? For example the idea of software piracy. There was a law about software piracy and it was resisted because of Intellectual Property issues. The challenge is how do you enforce anti-piracy laws for movies? It is illegal from an Intellectual Property Rights perspective but it is not a criminal offence. In the Philippines a vendor who is selling pirated CDs cannot be arrested by the police. They can confiscate the CDs but not arrest the vendor.
There is never going to be a native policy related to the internet. Every policy related to the internet emanates from existing laws and policies. They extend the laws to the realm of the internet. And a big problem is enforcement as the internet is so big.
c5 – In the Philippines, there are many government departments involved in violence against women's cases and increasingly they encounter ICT-mediated violence against women. But the forms they have available in the police station and government offices don't have anything that asks if this is violence over the internet. Violence against women is always seen as physical, e.g. how many bruises do you have? The forms do not allow for describing ICT-mediated violence against women. It is the number one reason why statistics are so low. But if you go into specific stories of threats over mobiles, via Facebook and email that trigger physical violence there are many such cases. But the police don't have a data collection methodology, so those just come in as anecdotes. As long as that doesn't change, how can you begin to have a policy to protect women on the internet. It is political will and the capacity to enforce. But the other side of it is that technology changes so rapidly, it is hard to keep track of what is happening and to regulate it.
RT – What about working with telcos and corporations or the ones who create software?
C5 - In the Philippines, the only reason (this was given by the cyber crime unit) why the relevant departments, including the police cannot get the SIM computer registration act passed is because the telcos are saying they want to protect privacy of clients. This is a tenuous statement.
Anonymous – Yes, it has to do with economics. Some telcos want to protect their clients but also since telcos own almost all the technology related to mobiles, the question is who will be enforcing the SIM registration? It will be costly for telcos and will hit their profits. So they are anti-SIM registration. Any government agency apart from telcos does not have capacity to do SIM registration so it will be passed onto telcos. Since most SIMs are pre-manufactured, the government could push telcos to simply say that all SIM numbers when they become active, are passed onto the government.
c5 – Corporations will always be about profit. But there is an opportunity when the interest dovetails with human rights groups for us to see if we can work with corporations around specific issues. They are about money and we are about privacy and the ability of citizens to express themselves freely using the internet and mobile phones. In this case we are allies for now. But activists' relationship with corporations should always be on a case by case basis. Intrinsically our agenda and interests are very different. But when it meets and matches, as it does for the moment, it can be useful. Now is the perfect time for activists in the Philippines to bring up the human rights issues that such a bill (regulating SIMs) would stomp all over. The telcos are stopping it right now. So it is an opportunity for civil society, as this cooperation might not last.
RT – In terms of secure online communications and women human rights defenders and their safety, how can they stay ahead of the threats and secure themselves?
c5 – We need to start now because right now we are not ahead. The systems are already in place and the internet has already been designed as open and can be used against us. The sooner women human rights defenders actually start to think about their own security and start implementing behavioural changes using tools that will even the playing field, the better. Policy can follow but practice has to happen now. because the only way you can get ahead of something that is already happening is to start trying to catch up. This can be on a technical level, or on a norms (behavioural) level. The sooner we do it the sooner we can get ahead.
Security is never permanent. It is an ongoing thing. So we are doing a workshop now on security, the one thing I would like the participants to take away from this workshop is that securing their laptops now will not last. They have to be engaged in what is happening on the internet as far as security is concerned. The scenario changes, the context changes and that is the only way we can get ahead of surveillance.
Anonymous – It has something to do with how we define women's human rights defenders. Working with Frontline Defenders, a group who defends people advocating for human rights, I learnt it has nothing to do with hierarchy. It is a field where if you call yourself a human rights defender you are addressing a specific audience. You are a specific group of individuals who are doing support work for people on the ground.
So as an experienced women's human rights defender, when we talk about the internet as a space, then you have to, at some level, have capacity to discern from experience and training what is a good online security practice. It is not a matter of training but of giving skills to individuals. If you are a women human rights defender, then the assumption is that, when you have done this course, you must and should be able to train others as you are a defender; you are defending others. You also have to walk the talk and you need to be able to use the skills not just personally but be able to teach that skill to others and to your communities.
If you say you are a women human rights defender who is conscious about secure online communications, then it is you protecting yourself on the internet, and at the same time not putting others at risk as well. This is difficult to do as it is a major behavioural change. If you are discerning enough to communicate with a human rights advocate then you need to discern whether or not it is the right time to be sending an encrypted email or not. And whether that would be putting a person at risk. So it is not just the skills or technology but your understanding of the environment as well. In some countries, you can be put in jail just for using encryption.. As a defender you don't need to know not just the technology but the environment and context in which the human rights advocate is working as well.
c5 – The good news about this is that as far as participants in this workshop go, they know their contexts well. Extending to other contexts is the challenge and the technology behavioural change is the biggest challenge of all.
Anonymous – People work in different contexts and organisations and you can forget these learnings and skills when you go back to your organisation. Also, your organisation already has protocols of communication. So the first thing you must do is work with your organisation on internet and communication safety and security.
c5 – These skills sometimes remain with the individuals who have been trained. But security can never be individual. Individual behaviour can change but it has to extend to the community as well in order to be effective. The training that we do is actually providing for that space and awareness to change peoples behaviours. When we change peoples behaviour in one training it should be an influencing factor for people to change other people's behaviour and have a domino effect. If that change in behaviour does not happen, then we have failed. It is not just technology, it is behaviour. Once you have changed the behaviour then you can start asking questions about technology; Such as, are there other technologies which I can use which are safer?
"Hand mapping" photo by APC. The hand mapping exercise was used during a series of digital storytelling workshops organized by the APC WNSP for women's rights activists across the world. The exercise allows them to explore hands as representations of safety or fear and helps them map the links between security and technology.
This article was written as a part of APC's “Connect your rights: Internet rights are human rights” campaign financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)