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An Effective Protester Is A Secure Protester

COUNTER-SURVEILLANCE SUCCESS STORY

An Effective Protester Is A Secure Protester

What: 

Protestos.org

Who: 

Article 19

Where: 

Brazil

The Surveillance Practice: 

During the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, police monitored and preemptively arrested dozens of people who they assumed were plotting to commit crimes during a final World Cup match protest. The DRCI (Bureau for the Repression of Computer Crimes) led the investigation, which was largely conducted by wiretapping phones and monitoring protesters’ public social media postings. Moreover, the court authorized requests for access to Facebook user data on more than 20 pages and 50 profiles.

In São Paulo, police initiated an investigation into protesters who used black bloc technique, a tactic used in demonstrations where one wears a mask or clothing that conceals their identity in order to defend other protesters from the police, summoning hundreds of protesters to testify at times the protests were scheduled. This resulted in an even larger surveillance state and increasingly fewer protesters on the streets.

Many reacted to the overreaching Brazilian police force; lawyers, judges, legislators, and law professors published a manifesto reporting several illegal police violations. The manifesto called for an end to the criminalization of demonstrations (such violations are outlined in a report published by Article 19). In June of 2013, Brazil staged massive demonstrations initially organized to protest against increasing public transportation fares in Brazil.  The demonstrations eventually morphed into protests against government corruption, police brutality, and big spending (on mega events like the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics). The combination of these large demonstrations and Brazil playing host to the World Cup and the Olympics led the Brazilian government to invest heavily in surveillance technologies.

When Brazil agreed to host the World Cup and the Olympics, the country put an enormous amount of money into heightening its security and surveillance capabilities. It’s common for countries to increase their security and public surveillance measures during such events, but all too often countries maintain such measures well after they’re over.  In fact, it’s not uncommon to see governments take advantage of global events in order to strengthen cooperation from certain countries in broader security issues. And that’s exactly what happened to Brazil when preparing for the 2014 World Cup; according to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, the U.S. lobbied Brazil to increase their security and information-sharing strategies after the latter was chosen to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

Brazil invested widely in its domestic security and surveillance capabilities, spending over $900 million on drones, cameras, and location tracking tools in order to help gather information about the concurrent protests. The country also integrated their national and international databases with cooperating parties, like Interpol, and subjected Brazilians to this invasive data collection techniques.  Intelligence agents mapped protest routes and monitored demonstrators by tracking their social media accounts.  And, because traditional media outlets in Brazil are heavily concentrated, media coverage of the protests largely focused on protesters as “vandals” rather than police brutality and unlawful mass arrests. Ultimately, this biased media reporting resulted in a chilling effect among demonstrators, stifling the words and actions of many.

While the World Cup and the Olympics always seem to provoke and expand security measures in host countries, Brazil ended up creating a surveillance state that infringed greatly on the fundamental freedoms of citizens and visitors alike.

The Campaign: 

With protests infiltrating the country and the right to privacy and free expression in serious jeopardy due to expanding police powers and surveillance technologies, civil rights NGO, Article 19, collaborated to create an illustrated guide that informs protesters about their rights and aims to build an awareness around digital security and safety practices. Article 19 worked with a team of digital security professionals like Escola de Ativismo—a non-profit that specializes in guiding and teaching security privacy to activists in Brazil—as well as lawyers, artists, human rights activists, journalists, and developers to bolster the project with a wide variety of expertise. These individuals were already partners in other projects related to the protection of freedom of expression during the protests so it was fitting that they came together to create this resource.

The digital platform Protestos.org aims to protect the right to privacy and freedom of expression of citizens in the streets and online—raising awareness and empowering activists to fight against increasing surveillance and rights violations.

Specifically, the online guide provides all protesters with tips and suggestions for preparing for and attending protests and contains legal and technological information, like suggesting certain tools people should use in order to communicate securely and protect themselves against privacy violations, censorship, and abuse. Legal advice and risk mitigation strategies are also included in the guide.  

The Strategy: 



Protestos is multifaceted; it:

  • Suggests secure communications tools that aim to protect user privacy;

  • Provides news coverage and reporting on various protests;

  • Allows citizens to submit reports of violations they’ve endured or witnessed during a protest;

The goal in developing Protestos.org was to safeguard digital freedom of expression and privacy in Brazil. Instead of creating just another digital security guide, Article 19 and Escola de Activismo contextualized the guide to make it more effective. The organizations used the World Cup protests as an example of how to improve the knowledge, awareness, and practices surrounding digital security.

    Lessons Learned: 
    • Think big picture and anticipate how your campaign will be received. Protestos wasn’t intended to touch the mainstream media and the wider public as much as it did. It was created as an educational resource for civil society groups, aimed to promote digital security and privacy for civil society. When launched, a diverse range of people far beyond the traditional civil society groups used it. This is why it's important to consider who will benefit from your campaign beyond your inner circle of potential beneficiaries.
    Resources: 

    https://protestos.org/

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