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Safer on-line behaviour will guide activists

Updated: 24 June 2014

Technological advances have made it easier for activists to communicate and publish information online. But while the online services are becoming easier to use, it’s harder to control who has access to information. A Sida-funded project will train HR activists how to utilise the potential of the web while managing the risks.

During the uprising in Egypt last year, thousands of people took pictures and published them on the web. Tracing down the person who took the pictures is an easy task, according to Stephanie Hankey at Tactical Technology Collective, an NGO that received Sida support for its project to strengthen and secure net activism.

"I tried to find the person who had published a picture by looking at the photo’s metadata on Flickr. Within five minutes I had learnt where the person was situated, when the picture was taken, I’d seen other pictures taken by her and I soon found her CV as well. This kind of exposure is new and the technology is doing a lot of security forces work for them," she says.

Today’s user-friendly technology makes it easy to transfer and synchronize information between mobile phones, computers and virtual servers. However, it makes it harder to know where the information is actually located and who has access to it, which is a danger to human rights defenders, handling sensitive information.

"We want to make human rights activists aware of how they best can use the web as a means to create change, while they become aware of the risks involved with online activism," adds Stephanie Hankey.

Toolbox about the potential on-line

The Sida-funded project runs several activities aiming at providing activists with the knowledge and the toolkit they need. The activities include a film that is currently being produced about the potential of using digital media; e.g. how to use your mobile phone to collect data about the state budget in Kenya, how to make a visual mapping of Ben Ali’s movement in Tunisia by using online tracking or how to help people share their stories on domestic violence. The film is a follow-up from a previous film  about how to use your mobile effectively.

While the Internet provides big opportunities to communicate, it is equally important to protect oneself from threats that online exposure could entail. The need for protection is different depending on the kind of activists. A well-known human rights defender is often aware of that he or she is monitored by the government, but might not be aware of all risks. The person knows that the phone is tapped and avoids using it, but he or she might not think about security in the same way when using the Internet. On the other hand, students who take pictures during demonstrations and publish them on Facebook for the first time need different kinds of advice. They have no previous awareness about online risks, and sometimes publish pictures under their own name. Governments can easily access this information and use it to harass the activists.

Exchanging knowledge and practical skills is an important part of tactical Tech’s work, for instance during the organised camps, or so called info-activism institutes, where different activists from all over the world meet during a week.

"We try to gather all the knowledge we have and disseminate it through films and other instruments, says Stephanie Hankey and gives an example of a series of five short animated films that will be released this spring through the organisation’s network and on the Internet."

Shifting focus from technology to quality

The films explain how to create safe passwords, how to avoid full exposure through Facebook or the safe use of webmail or the so called clouds that wirelessly transfer and store information on a remote server.

When Stephanie began to work with NGOs and technology 14 years ago, supporting activists was all about having access to computers, video cameras and other equipment. Now it’s rather about quality, information control and how to guarantee safety of persons being exposed.

"Today, in a world where WikiLeaks is possible, individuals with very little resources can check the governments’ decisions and hold decision makers accountable. This makes it so important to keep the online space open for discussion, contributing to a change in our society," she says.


Facts Tactical Tech:

Tactical Technology Collective's  (Tactical Tech)  project Strengthening and Securing Net Activism: Enabling actors for Change to Increase the free flow of information and Freedom of expression online started in 2011 and will run until 2013.

Sida's support amounts to 8,412,900 Swedish Kronor (SEK) and the project is a part of the Swedish Government’s Special Initiative for Democracy and Freedom of expression.

The NGO Tactical Tech is working to enable the effective use of information for a reform-minded social change. Tactical Tech has 25 employees and a large network of local partners in human rights movements worldwide. All material is being produced in five languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic) and translated via local affiliates to other languages such as Bahasa, Burmese and Mandarin.

Achievements within the project:

  • Production of a series of five short animated films  about safety and computers that are distributed through the Internet and via the organisation's network and partners. The films explain, through the main character the robot ONO, how to create safe passwords, or use Facebook without exposing oneself too much. The film has so far been translated into eleven languages.
  • Production of an interactive tool - Me and my shadow - that shows how to track your online presence and what you can do to minimize it. The tool is an online test made to make the users aware of their behaviour and its consequences.
  • Flash-training events, conducted in conjunction with major conferences and events that attract many visitors from Tactical Tech's target audience. During such events, Tactical Tech is usually on site with information in order to create discussion and awareness about online security. Flash training events have taken place in Burma and in Egypt in early 2012 and another event is planned in Brazil during an anti-corruption conference in November 2012.
  • Pre-production of a film about the potential of using digital media, in order to create a debate on the subject. The film is a follow-up to an earlier documentary about activists using technology for social change. The first film was translated to 24 languages and has been shown around the world to at least 8,000 people.
  • Two info-activism camps will be held; one in late 2012 and one in 2013.


Page owner: The Communication Unit

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