Blog Archives

March 26, 2018 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation was at the Internet Freedom Festival 2018

Digital Rights Foundation was at the Internet Freedom Festival 2018

Digital Rights Foundation attended the 5th Annual Internet Freedom Festival held on March 5 through March 9, 2018 in Valencia, Spain. The festival addresses the issues pertaining to digital rights from around the world and seeks to formulate solutions as a community towards safe and inclusive online spaces.

Gendering surveillance: from the point of view of marginalised groups:

The panel discussion organised by DRF ‘Gendering surveillance: from the point of view of marginalised groups’ was moderated by Hyra Basit from DRF, and consisted of Nayanatara Ranganathan from the Internet Democracy Project (India), Marianne Diaz, a Venezuelan lawyer, and Joanna Varon, a Brazilian researcher and digital rights advocate. The discussion centered around the various forms of surveillance that take place in various settings, and its gendered nature which ultimately affects women in a more nuanced manner. The session was attended by approximately 35 participants.

The session started off with an introduction of the topic, linking it with some of the findings that DRF has researched. Both state and societal surveillance occurs all over the world, but affects different minority groups, such as women and LGBTQ groups particularly strongly because it brings them under even harsher scrutiny and under potential danger. Hyra exerted that surveillance is oftentimes seen as something that only affects political actors such as politicians, diplomats, activists and the likes, but in fact it can influence the everyday lives of all citizens, from how they behave in public, to who they are allowed to interact with, eventually leading them to change certain behaviors to avoid the watchful gaze of either the state or other members of society. The surveillance experienced by female journalists and then the numerous women and girls who seek help from the Cyber Harassment Helpline was explained to set some grounding for the panelists to share their experiences.

Nayanatara presented the research conducted by the Internet Democracy Project on the various safety and tracking apps in India, especially those that sprung up after the Nirbhaya incident in 2012. They found that these apps were actually undermining the safety and autonomy of women and instead of empowering them, were encouraging already set gender norms and structures. Another example is the use of cell phones by women in rural India which led to widespread anxiety because they became a way to counter the surveillance that they faced. She also talked about the Aadhaar system and the collection of information on all citizens by the state, an attempt at mass surveillance.

Marianne brought in the perspective from Venezuela and explained how the economic and political crisis there has led to a shortage of all daily necessities including food and medicines. More than a million have fled the country and those who stay back get their food and other essentials any way they can - which means if they get it from government sanctioned stations, they need to hand over all their information to the state, enabling mass surveillance in an already troubled state. This is also problematic because each person is designated a fixed quantity of ration, and so requires anyone who needs anything to be forced to come out themselves to collect it. This surveillance then affects those seeking medical help as well, especially those women looking to get an abortion. This system puts the lives of women at risk, because their activities get reported.

Joana then rounded up the discussion by talking more generally about the various policy discussions taking place to counter this gendered surveillance. She brought a wider perspective on this issue by referring to an earlier discussion held on gendered surveillance involving the Brazilian and German representatives to the UN. After having discussed the types of surveillance faced by gendered minorities, and what legislation measures and changes are taking place, she then concluded the panel discussion by offering some of the resources and projects that have been established to make women more aware of the surveillance that they face, and how they can protect themselves. Initiatives like and Safer Nudes were discussed.

The audience too, expressed their interest in the gendered nature of surveillance and hoped to add on to the statistics and research presented in the session. There was also a call to appreciate the many measures that have sprung up focused on protecting people’s privacy, in comparison to a few years ago when there were practically none. It is always easy to point out the problems but much more difficult to draw up solutions, and the impact that just spreading awareness among people can have was also pointed out.

It is important to recognize surveillance, especially gendered surveillance, not just because private information is being given out to someone or some organization that you wouldn’t want to have control over you, and because it ultimately affects behavior, but also because it reinforces prevalent power structures. As Nayanatara pointed out, when surveilled, the more privileged you are, the less you have to fear. Minority groups, such as women and LGBTQ groups are eventually the ones whose identity, appearance, mobility, freedom of expression is curtailed and controlled the most.

Strategizing around online gender-based violence documentation and accompaniment practice:

Hyra was also invited to speak by Indira Cornelio of Ciberseguras in a panel entitled ‘Strategizing around online gender-based violence documentation and accompaniment practice’. The purpose of the panel was to discuss how information around online VAW is being gathered and presented for advocacy and raising awareness. Hyra discussed the process of gathering non-personally identifiable information, the categories under which the Cyber Harassment Helpline identifies the harassment that callers face, and how they choose to present that information. The panelists and audience expressed their interest in how the Helpline operates and coordinates with law enforcement agencies and policy makers by asking several questions.

Sexing the data: surveillance, gender and sexuality in the global south:

As surveillance is a rising concern over the world especially with the growth of surveillance technologies, it was also a topic of much concern at the IFF. Shubha Kayastha from Nepal moderated the session ‘Sexing the data: surveillance, gender and sexuality in the global south’ where Hyra spoke about the gendered nature of surveillance in the context of Pakistan. The contrast in surveillance of male and female journalists was discussed, as well as the surveillance of the LGBTQ community and the data breaches in NADRA’s database.

Author: Hyra Basit

Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Blog

Comments are closed.