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Digital Rights Jakarta: State Sponsored Surveillance and People’s Privacy Protection

Digirights JKT 1

Earlier in May, we collaborated with SAFENET to host an event in Jakarta, Indonesia, for members of the public to discuss the topic of digital rights and the issues surrounding it, along with a screening of Citizen Four.

Those present agreed that state sponsored surveillance, where a government with unlimited resources is specifically spying on your activities, is the worst scenario someone can find themselves in. However, we weren’t only looking at high profile cases, but also at privacy awareness at wider, subtler, and even cultural levels.

We discussed privacy as having quite a different meaning in the Asian cultural context, and the boundaries and parameters to specify what kinds of activities can or can’t be considered as trespassing rights or privacy. For example, how many people in the region are often very welcoming, opening their doors and inviting strangers into their homes, or when meeting someone new on public transportation, asking many questions on matters that would be considered private to a person from the West. This may relate to how “open” they are on social media platforms such as Facebook.

Digirights JKT 2

That dialogue was followed by the screening of Citizen Four. The film featured Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) employee who became a whistleblower on the dubious activities of the organisation, such as its mass appropriation of public data for its own political agenda. The discussion held after the screening touched on some critical points such as exactly who is spying on us, the rights of the public, and also how best we can defend ourselves against invasions of privacy.

It was a very fruitful event, but everyon agreed that it wouldn’t be our last meeting, as there are still many related issues that need to be explored and work that needs to be done to spread awareness on them. And one of the events we’re looking forward in that regard is 1st Global Feminist Hackathon, which we’ll be participating in on 23 May!

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Building from the Grassroots

RightsCon Grassroots

As a host organization of RightsCon Southeast Asia, EngageMedia members did a tremendous amount of outreach with colleagues and networks, cowriting proposals for sessions, joining sessions as facilitators and participants, documenting events, and of course, running the show.

The program for the event included over 100 discussions and meetings around internet rights in public and private programming. As coordinator of the conference, I had the opportunity to support all of the sessions and also to organize one session together with members from EngageMedia and Foundation for Media Alternatives and colleagues of Research Action Design (RAD). This session was a collaboration, organized together with Nica Dumlao, the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) staff lead on RightsCon and the head of FMA’s Digital Rights work,

From the beginning of working together, Nica and I noticed the commonalities in our work. Both of our organizations are working to build digital rights discourse and security practices among social justice activists. Our organizations both use a participatory training and popular education methodology. Our workshops are opportunities for activists to share their experiences of surveillance, online organizing tactics and techniques, and to build capacity in defending and protecting ourselves. FMA and RAD also engage in policy discussions and technology design spaces, and actively build bridges between those technocratic spaces and movement spaces so that activists, often the target of surveillance and privacy are active participants in policy and technology designed to counter surveillance and data insecurity.

FMA operates primarily in the Philippines, and RAD in the US, but the way we approach our work is similar and conversations we are having with activists are similar and we were able to learn from each others methodologies. We wanted to meet more people who are working with grassroots organizers in the area of digital rights, so we organized a session for RightsCon, together with Lisa Garcia (FMA), Seeta Peña Gangadharan (OTI and Data & Society), and Emi Kane (Abundance Foundation).

We invited colleagues who similarly work directly with activists to share some of their experiences and then, together with the participants who joined our session, we worked together to discuss our greatest challenges and opportunities.

Sylvia Cadena, Community Grants and Awards Specialist with ISIF Asia, Seelan Palay of EngageMedia, Amalia Toledo of Fundacion Karisma, and Diana Nucera with Allied Media Projects and Detroit Digital Stewards, all spoke about their work and experiences working with grassroots activists.  They each led discussions around their areas of experience, discussing challenges and opportunities of working in the region around grant and venture capital funding for tech projects; mediamaking and documentation with migrant workers; building grassroots campaigns around digital rights policies; supporting groups to document rights acuses and defend their rights without making them more vulnerable; and developing community agreements for community owned technology.

Please see these links to learn more about this work: