ICT for human rights, democracy and activism

ICT for human rights, democracy and activism – these comprehensive set of topics have been part of Module 6 as part of long-term online course “ICT Innovations for Development”.


This module looked at the role of ICT to advance, promote and defend human rights, as well as capture testimonials of human rights violation. Moreover, it provided the opportunity to participants to learn more how ICTs can be adopted for democratic processes and activism. The module has specifically focused on how new technologies are influencing the human rights agenda and how they are being used by the local population and by NGOs to monitor, expose and address human right violations, while also highlighting the challenges and risks associated with ICTs. With the rise of online surveillance techniques and technologies, and ever-increasing online tracking methods, activists across the world have been the target of such surveillance and tracking, therefore the Module has looked also at the (anti)surveillance techniques, platforms and technologies.

Bringing together international experts, such as: Satu Valter, anti-racist activist and head of No Hate Speech Campaign in Finland; Dr Dan McQuillan, professor at Goldsmiths, University of London and one of 93 people who were beaten, disappeared & tortured by Italian police during G8 protest in Genoa (2001); and Ron Salaj, human rights and environmental activist – the module brought together a broad range of themes, case studies and looked at practical tools, platforms and apps.

The first lecture focused more on the basic concepts of Human Rights, looking at the main characteristics of human rights, its values, but also its conflicts and dilemmas, followed by a case study from Finland. It is precisely this case study which was discussed and presented by Satu Valtere, that is, the No Hate Speech Campaign, a European campaign launched by Council of Europe. Focusing on the main elements and features of the campaign, Satu has described the advantages and disadvantages of the campaigns for human rights that are launched by international organisations. Considering that this campaign focuses on combating hate speech online, an interesting discussion took place around the dilemma between freedom of expression and hate speech – and where the line exist?

We moved on with the second lecture, where Ron Salaj has spoken about the concept of activism in the Internet age. Starting from the ’60s, ‘70s and ‘80s protests in China (Tiananmen square), Italy (Movement of ‘77) and feminist movements across Europe – this lecture looked specifically at the campaigning techniques by activists and dissidents movements across the world: from samizdat techniques of publication to culture jamming and free pirate radios. The lecture continues to explore how the forms of activism have shifted by the internet. For example: looking how activists have shut down Lufthansa’s website in Germany (using DDoS attacks) for several hours to protest the immigrant deportation with Lufthansa’s airplanes, a case which the german court has ruled pro activists, justifying the website attack as non-violent digital disobedience; or exploring Google Bombing and agile campaigning techniques employed by anti-racist and anti-Islamophobic group called English Disco Lovers; and then concluding with a detailed analyzation and critical discussion around Arab Spring, Occupy Movement and Gezi Parki – three movements that shake the world between 2010-2013.

The third lecture lead by Dr Dan McQuillan has looked specifically at the concept of ‘open source intelligence’. It started with the technique of ‘sousveillance’, which means “watching from below” (or the opposite of ‘surveillance’) and its etymology derives from replacing ‘sur’ (over) with ‘sous’, which means ‘under’ or ‘below’ or ‘from below’. To illustrate the technique, Dr. Dan McQuillan described how the ‘monitoring from below’ has happened since early ‘90s with Rodney King case in Los Angeles to #BlackLivesMatter, civil rights movements which is coordinated but at the same time decentralized and without the leader, as well as combining localised power structures with an inclusive ethos that consciously incorporates women, LQBTQI* activists, etc. The lecture continued with Bellingcat – a great example that blends together open source intelligence, digital forensics and investigative journalism. Along with Bellingcat, Forensic Architecture has been, a research agency which “provide evidence for international prosecution teams, political organisations, NGOs, and the United Nations in various processes worldwide.  Additionally, the agency undertakes historical and theoretical examinations of the history and present status of forensic practices in articulating notions of public truth”. The lecture has been concluded with practical work on the variety of open source technologies for activism, evidence gathering, investigation, etc.

The fourth lecture again leads by Dr Dan McQuillan, focused on online surveillance and tracking. The lecture has heavily focused on developing the practical skills of participants, by demonstrating and practicing a number of tools and platforms, such as Mozilla’s Lightbeam plugin that helps you identify online trackers in real-time; Panopticlick, a research project by EFF; Tor browser, keeping your browser and internet search anonymous; Veracrypt, a free disk encryption software; PGP, an email encryption system and other encrypted communication channels like Signal or Silent Phone. The lecture has concluded with a theoretical elaboration of Edward Snowden’s revelation and how the big democratic states like USA or UK harness some of the most sophisticated spying technologies at global scale. But on the other side, new movements are emerging to resists, take action and educate people across the world against online surveillance, such as Cryptoparty a decentralized movement with events happening all over the world, aiming to pass on knowledge about protecting yourself in the digital space (this can include encrypted communication, preventing being tracked while browsing the web, and general security advice regarding computers and smartphones).


Photo Credits: Trump-WomensMarch_2017-1060165

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