Digital Security in Abya Yala, the land of vital blood.
From Gender and Tech Resources
Latin America is today the land of hope for the whole world, the strength of its ecosystems, the self-organisation of its people let us think that the problems we have as the human specie could be overcome. Yet we know that the road is not easy. The historical and collective memory not only of its native people, but also most recently of the many dictatorships and wars that have arisen in countries like Honduras, Colombia and Mexico reminds us constantly what it takes to defend freedom in those complicated times.
When I started to participate in the digital security workshops I felt great distress, Mexico was revealing itself as a country at war in which the impression was that some lives did not count. For instance, in Ciudad Juarez, a city with 1 million and a half of inhabitants located nearby the US border, 11.114 murders were registered from the 1^st of January 2007 to the 21th of October 2012. The story about the feminicides happening in this city is also something well known worldwide. Then we documented how in different cities the organized crime killed people for spreading messages into social networks, and it got worse when the government criminalized people that tried to face this emergency by providing information to get organised also through social networks.
For a long time with our partners of the communityhackmitin (http://hackmitin.espora.org), we discuss the role we had and wanted to play in this context. Then I joined some friends who were already working around digital security and I begun to provide workshops. At that time acknowledgement and understanding on the surveillance and monitoring of people through social medias did not have the media coverage and relevance it has nowadays and we had almost to beg people to enroll in our workshops, we were trying to contact and generate strategies for groups that were at risk and we felt very frustrated by our inability to show the relevance of those issues and to encourage the use of privacy and digital security tools. We talked many times about it, what we were missing?, why people end up not using the tools? We thought it was education, that it was a cultural thing, that it was due to the perception of uselessness in such a gore country where your life means nothing and is all the time hanging by a thread. After a while some colleagues were more inclined to address the issue from a purely technical level, in my case I was increasingly thinking that it was relevant to adopt a feminist approach even though I did not really know what it could mean.
For me, attending the Gender and Technology Institute turned to be a very intense experience and I have to admit that it was not until the Circumvention Tech Festival that I could begin to put a name and give voice to the range of emotions the GTI had caused in me. To be nourished with reflections from such a broad diversity and understanding the holistic security approach served me a lot.
Back to Mexico, a couple of weeks ago, a unique opportunity came along as I was contacted to give a workshop to a group of journalists who were in trouble. This was the first time I had all the conditions to prepare the workshop with a good combination of all these reflections: Proper time, interests and economic resources. As I was planning and designing the workshop, the aims and purposes become more clear:
- to generate a safe and intimate environment in which we can expose what we feel, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.
- to create the conditions in which we knowledge the need for every participant to advance at her own rhythm, integrating the dimension of the differential ways of accessing to technology driven by characteristics such as gender, and then strengthen the conditions that people could develop their autonomy independently but in a collective context.
- Stop seeing the technology as a black box in order to be able to understand the strengths and limitations of the tools that we have at disposition in relation to the temporality they are embedded in.
- Use tools for data encryption and anonymity.
- Understand digital security from a holistic perspective.
To achieve this I also talked to my fellow theater collective that works with popular education, in order to prepare and adapt some games. I prepared the materials and resources to be screened during the workshop. I made a list of materials we could use such as leaves and feathers. The workshop lasted 16 hours and was developed in two days, it was attended by 6 people and at the end they could encrypt their mails, use TAILS and erased metadata. We are now in the process of monitoring and follow up and the integration of other tools such as using IM clients that can support encryption.
During several days I felt shaken by the experience as it felt that this workshop was completely different, not only because I achieved technical things that I had not done before, but above all because there was an atmosphere of hope, but not of false hope, it was the hope that comes from knowing that you can do things, that we could move from fear to self-defense and that we could move from doing it alone to do it together.
Now I think back to the challenges of thinking about digital security from Abya Yala (how ancient cultures named America). I consider crucial to understand this brutal asymmetry that is enlighten by technology, the discrimination that exists from how it is designed and made up to how it is used; to locate the sociopolitical context that exists both for its history and for the current present, it is not the same to do those workshop in Honduras than in Chile or Venezuela. To put the emphasis not in things but in the people, in what we feel and think.
Final note: I have been for several days thinking about a question that was made to me by a participant: “What is the difference between a digital security workshop that integrates a feminist vision?”. Maybe the answer seems obvious but it is not. And for me it has to do with willing to assume that what is shared in the workshop goes beyond mere technicalities, it is somehow about giving a part of you, and that it is why it was so intense at first, because it forces us to recognize also ourselves and to recognize the others persons and it makes us recognize the environment in which we can then see the digital security into a broader social and political contexts. Previous elements might not be exclusive of a feminist vision but it has been for me the way that I'm finding myself.