In the wake of Colombia’s tax reform proposal, which came as more Colombians fell into poverty as a result of the pandemic, demonstrations spread over the country in late April, reviving social unrest and socio-economic demands that led people to the streets in 2019.The government's attempts to reduce public outcry by withdrawing the tax proposal to draft a new text did not work. Protests continue online and offline. Violent repression on the ground by police, and the military presence in Colombian cities, have raised concerns among national and international groups—from civil organizations across the globe to human rights bodies that are calling on the government to respect people’s constitutional rights to assemble and allow free expression on the Internet and the streets. Media has reported on government crackdowns against the protestors, including physical violence, missing persons, and deaths, seizing of phones and other equipment used to document protests, and police action, as well as internet disruptions and content restrictions or takedowns by online platforms.
As the turmoil and demonstrations continue, we’ve put together some useful resources from EFF and allies we hope can help those attending protests and using technology and the Internet to speak up, report, and organize. Please note that the authors of this post come from primarily U.S.- and Brazil-based experiences. The post is by no means comprehensive. We urge readers to be aware that protest circumstances change quickly; digital security risks, and their mitigation, can vary depending on your location and other contexts.
This post has two sections covering resources for navigating protests and resources for navigating networks.
To attend protests safely, demonstrators need to consider many factors and threats: these range from protecting themselves from harassment and their own devices’ location tracking capabilities, to balancing the need to use technologies for documenting law enforcement brutality and disseminating information. Another consideration is using encryption to protect data and messages from unintended readers. Some resources that may be helpful are:
For Protestors (Colombia)
- Kit for digital security before, during and after a protest (Fundación Karisma): Kit de seguridad digital para antes, durante y después de una protesta (Español)
- Digital security tips (Fundación Karisma): Jornada de protesta Nacional en Colombia #28A (Español)
- Resources for protesting online and offline documentation (Derechos Digitales): Tweet Thread (Español)
For Bringing Devices to Protests
- Digital security guide on protest digital safety considerations from Surveillance Self-Defense (EFF): Attending a Protest (English), Asistir a una protesta (Español)
- New digital security guide explaining problems with mobile phones and tracking, from Surveillance Self-Defense (EFF): Privacy Breakdown of Mobile Phones (English)
- A primer on different types of encryption and how they can be helpful, from Surveillance Self-Defense (EFF): What Should I Know About Encryption? (English), Qué debo saber sobre el cifrado? (Español)
- Digital security guide for using the end-to-end encryption app, Signal, from Freedom of the Press Foundation: Locking Down Signal (English)
- Digital security guide for using Signal from Surveillance Self-Defense (EFF): How to: Use Signal on iOS (English), How to: Use Signal on Android (English); Cómo utilizar Signal en iOS (Español); Cómo utilizar Signal en Android (Español)
For Using Videos and Photos to Document Police Brutality, Protect Protesters’ Faces, and Scrub Metadata
- Filming law enforcement and human rights abuses (WITNESS): Filming Protests, Demonstrations & Police Conduct (English), Diez consejos rápidos para filmar protestas, manifestaciones y conducta policial (Español)
- There are quite a few resources for protecting faces of protesters while documenting a protest, such as
- Signal’s in-app feature for obscuring faces (Freedom of the Press Foundation): Wear a mask, then cover your face with Signal (English)
- Apps explicitly for omitting faces from a crowd (Guardian Project and WITNESS): ObscuraCam (English)
- Principles of how to do photo redactions effectively (Freedom of the Press Foundation): Redacting photos on the go: An in-field guide (English)
- A deep dive on how to remove metadata (Freedom of the Press Foundation): Everything you wanted to know about media metadata, but were afraid to ask (English)
What happens if the Internet is really slow, down altogether, or there’s some other problem keeping people from connecting online? What if social media networks remove or block content from being widely seen, and each platform has a different policy for addressing content issues? We’ve included some resources for understanding hindrances to sending messages and posts or connecting online.
For Network and Platform Blockages (Colombia)
- Fundación Karisma is collecting evidence on Internet blocking and content/account takedown. Cases can be reported at: #ParoNacionalColombia: ¿Te han bloqueado contenidos, afectado su alcance o cancelado cuentas en redes sociales? (Español)
For Network Censorship
- Digital security guide for navigating different types of network censorship. Surveillance Self-Defense (EFF): Understanding and Circumventing Network Censorship (English), Comprender y eludir la censura de la red (Español)
- The #KeepItOn coalition, including information on what internet shutdowns are, and how to report if you experience a shutdown (Access Now): KeepItOn Frequently Asked Questions (English)
- Resources for documenting during Internet shutdowns (WITNESS): Documenting During Internet Shutdowns (English), Documentar durante apagones de internet: una serie de blogs con recomendaciones prácticas (Español)
For Selecting a Circumvention Tool
If circumvention (not anonymity) is your primary goal for accessing and sending material online, the following resources might be helpful. Keep in mind that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are still able to see that you are using one of these tools (e.g. that you’re on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or that you’re using Tor), but not where you’re browsing, nor the content of what you are accessing.
- Digital security guide on why picking a VPN is often difficult, when balancing concerns around privacy and security and delegating trust to someone else’s server, from Surveillance Self-Defense (EFF): Choosing the VPN That’s Right for You (English), Escogiendo el VPN Apropiado Para usted (Español)
- Comparisons of different popular VPNs, The Wirecutter (New York Times): The Best VPN Service (English)
A few diagrams showing the difference between default connectivity to an ISP using a VPN and using Tor are included below (from the Understanding and Circumventing Network Censorship SSD guide).
Digital security guide on using Tor Browser, which uses the volunteer-run Tor network, from Surveillance Self-Defense (EFF): How to: Use Tor on macOS (English), How to: Use Tor for Windows (English), How to: Use Tor for Linux (English), Cómo utilizar Tor en macOS (Español), Cómo Usar Tor en Windows (Español), Como usar Tor en Linux (Español)
For Peer-to-Peer Resources
Peer-to-Peer alternatives can be helpful during a shutdown or during network disruptions and include tools like the Briar App, as well as other creative uses such as Hong Kong protesters’ use of AirDrop on iOS devices.
For Platform Censorship and Content Takedowns
If your content is taken down from services like social media platforms, this guide may be helpful for understanding what might have happened, and making an appeal (Silenced Online): How to Appeal (English).
For Identifying Disinformation
Verifying the authenticity of information (like determining if the poster is part of a bot campaign, or if the information itself is part of a propaganda campaign) is tremendously difficult. Data & Society’s reports on the topic (English), and Derechos Digitales’ thread (Español) on what to pay attention to and how to check information might be helpful as a starting point.
Need More Help?
For those on the ground who need digital security assistance, Access Now has a 24/7 Helpline for human rights defenders and folks at risk, which is available in English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, Arabic, and Italian. You can contact their helpline at https://www.accessnow.org/help/.
Thanks to former EFF fellow Ana Maria Acosta for her contributions to this piece.