Why Should We Care About Digital Security

At Equality Labs, we believe resistance begins with understanding the threat that mass surveillance represents to our movements. Once we all are literate with how bad the problem is, we can begin then to learn how to protect ourselves, our devices, our data, and our communications. Now more than ever we must keep one another close for the strongest defense against mass surveillance is a collective one rooted in community, self-care, and accountability. Security culture in our movements is an act of love and solidarity and we hope activists around the world will use this curriculum to build power during these dire times. We know our peoples are resilent and our curriculum is designed to amplify our strengths and aims to present immediate common-sense measures to help activists learn how to protect each other and their movements.

Although some countries have privacy protection laws, all governments employ mass surveillance programs that intrude on our global internet freedoms.1 These programs' overreach into our private lives outpaces many of the laws that could protect us and as a result we are less secure and more surveilled than any other generation in world history.

Further beyond governments, right-wing elmements are also working to track a organizers with large crowd source vigilante surveillance programs that are aimed at harassing and intimidating activists. If you are mobilizing against repression, the less information the system has on you the better and this curriculum is designed to show you how.

It's easy to assume that repressive or fascist governments would be the only ones to employ invasive surveillance tools but that is not the case. Wee need to consistently protect important data no matter what political party is in power in your country. For governments have used shocking events like wars, climate disasters, economic downturns, and even religious conflicts to increase power and suppress opposition by tricking people into giving up their rights.

In countries around the world we have witnessed the rolling back of civil liberties by authorities limiting or even outlawing the right to protest.2 We’ve also seen people respond en masse to these tactics with movements that leverage online presence with on the ground movement with much success. This is why we must fight for our internet freedom and ensure our movement's digital resilence by growing the literacy of all our movements in Digital Security.

Digital security will not end repression on its own; but, people must use it to guard data and collective strategies in the process of fighting repression. For where the law has failed in protecting our privacy rights, digital and operational security practices can help us defend them.

We encourage all activists to have a holistic approach to maintaining privacy when it comes to our countries. If you are making non-secure communications across borders, you may be putting your contacts or even yourself at risk. It's also important to have constructive conversations with people in your national or international movements who do not have routines around digital security to inspire them to join the conversation and participate in our collective resilence.

This curriculum will help you make informed decisions about current protective measures that can reduce harmful levels of surveillance while also helping you be more literate about how to navigate new risks as they come up. There will never be a perfect silver bullet in terms of digital security, but we believe we can help you feel safer and more informed as you organize because once you know your rights it is easier to fight and learn the tools. Think of this curriculum then as harm reduction for the digital organizer!

We also know many people in our diverse communities feel powerless and may even argue, “What's the point?”. But in fact, there are simple digital security steps you can take now to help protect you from most threats, and make the remaining threats very expensive for malicious actors to implement. We have to overcome the inertia of oppression and take back our internet freedoms with collective will and intention.

We hope this curriculum will create a foundation for an education in safety and resilience, and a pathway to bring this crucial conversation into your homes, organizations, and movements. Digital security is a process not a destination and we believe that together we can make all of us safer!

HOW TO USE THIS CURRICULUM

We hope this curriculum will arm you with basic digital security knowledge and effective, simple-to-follow pointers for staying safe. Read this material, come to the workshops, and refer to the curriculum whenever you need to. We will also be offering curriculum module updates at Equality Labs so visit us often!

THE CURRICULUM AND WORKSHOP SHOULD HELP YOU:

  • Understand the basics of digital security
  • Secure your phone
  • Secure your computer
  • Secure your network access
  • Secure your browser
  • Secure your identity
  • Secure your social networks
  • Secure your communications

LEGEND

This legend will help you identify the icons in this curriculum which highlight significant information.

NOTE: The pencil sign denotes important details that often will provide important background to comprehending the section at hand.
TIP: The light bulb brings attention to important shortcuts or key concepts to help you make a task easier and faster or even both.
WARNING: When you see the warning sign, take note. These important notes stress actions to avoid that could make you vulnerable. These notes could also include actions that can keep you safer.
TASKS: When you see this checkmark you should be aware that you are being introduced to a key step that must be completed to ensure the security process being discussed is implemented correctly. Do not proceed to the next security task until you have completed the checkmark at hand as many steps are interdependent of each other.

WHERE DOES THE U.S. STAND ON DIGITAL SECURITY ISSUES TODAY?

THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

The right to privacy is a powerful and necessary foundation of democracy. When the right to privacy is connected to the right to free speech and the right to assemble we have the three fundamental pillars of any functioning democracy. When any one of these pillars are compromised, democracy itself is at risk.

The right to privacy is our right to keep a domain around us. These domains include all those things that define our individuality, such as our bodies, home, property, thoughts, feelings, secrets, and identities. The right to privacy gives us the ability to choose which parts of these domains, others—most importantly, state and corporate entities—can access and empowers us to control the extent, manner, and timing of this use.

If a government strips us of privacy in our lives and in our communications, it can halt thoughts, innovations, movements, and political actions that differ from the mainstream. The feeling of being watched over creates a climate of fear that can end up leaving no room for public criticism or dissent. Such environments are not conducive to democracy or social change.

We should expect an unobstructed furthering of the state’s rights in the face of our own.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, alludes to the right to privacy, stating that:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing

the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”3

The goal of this provision is to protect people’s right to privacy and freedom from arbitrary governmental intrusions. What we currently have in the U.S., is a broken policy framework where the law has failed to protect the rights of certain groups of citizens. Even more drastically, through the frame of “terrorism” the government has an unprecedented ability to surveil anyone who it deems a threat.

If we are really being honest, the right to privacy though has always been for the privileged. Since the U.S. was founded, its government has surveilled, policed, and imprisoned indigenous, black, and other communities of color as part of its policies of state control and to justify its settler colonialism.

From the slave pass, to lantern laws, to predictive policing we have to look at our current mass surveillance state not as an aberration, but rather as the next phase of a continuing policy of state violence toward our communities.

Communities like ours that are in the crosshairs of the current manifestations of mass surveillance must fight even harder for our rights to privacy.

If you are indigenous, black, Muslim, Latinx, undocumented, or LGBTQ you are seen as disposable by the government, your right to privacy has been eroded—or is non-existent.

This increases exponentially if you have been part or are currently in the prison industrial complex.

Now, the whole country is experiencing what those of us from these communities have been saying for a long time:

SHIT IS REAL Y’ALL, and it’s time to get to work!

 

1 List of Internet Censorship and Surveillance By Country. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_and_surveillance_by_country

2 Take Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World: Repression and criminalization of protest around the world. https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/global_protest_suppression_report_inclo.pdf

3 The Fourth Amedment: https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment