Thursday, October 11, 2012

Internet Security – Privacy Is the Exception

"Just because you are not paranoid it does not mean they are not out to get you" - Jacob Appelbaum.

Mobile phones and the Internet allow us to communicate instantly, stay abreast of current events and search for and find information on nearly anything. Telecommunication tools have made us social animals to an extent that we have become insensitive to privacy and carelessly exposed.

The Internet has become indispensable. The question is how should we use it?

I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Jacob Appelbaum, an independent computer security researcher and hacker. Jacob has worked with Wikileaks and many other avant-guardists IT projects. Jacob’s Wiki is one of the few with a category titled: ‘Investigation and detainment’. I was fascinated to hear that he knows, he’s a ‘suspect’ and permanently under surveillance by security services because of his choice to protect his privacy and that of other human right activists.

Listening to questions during the presentation made me think that some human rights and social activists in Africa may be today in jail because they ignored threats to their privacy and to those involved in their projects. Therefore, it is important civil society members working or training on citizen journalism, social media or human rights advocacy take in consideration security of their members and provide them with alternative tools.

Long story short - allow be to present you some facts before sharing with you a number of tools that we can use to protect our self and those we are communicating with:
  • We all leave a data trail every time we log into the Internet
  • State run telecommunication monopoly provides State with possibility to intercept communication (Waffle Interception which still passive in many African countries)
  • Powerhouse telecommunication companies do sell interceptive devices to oppressive regimes. These Support Contracts must be considered as human right violation
  • Any document you send via e-mail is lost, out of your control
  • Wireless connections in public places or hotels are just as insecure as tablets and smartphone 
  • Whoever owns and carries a mobile phone has become a traceable object. The smarter the phone the more data we give away. The truth is iPhone and tablets’ users are more vulnerable understood that these devices can store data about the user without his consent or knowledge
  • Privacy include your location, relations, hobbies and communications
  • We all have something to hide. Today Internet is saying we must share everything. Privacy has become suspicious.
  • Whoever abstains to use a mobile phone or to create a Facebook profile is a ‘suspect’. Privacy is longer the norm but the exception
  • New surveillance by government and commercial entities is a threat to society
Things we should not take for granted
  • ‘Behaviour profiling’ by Google and Amazon can be consider as breach of privacy. How they can read your mind? As we have become dependent of technology – breach of privacy has become moral because it cannot be avoided
  • Facebook had complied to US federal law and has provided the US government with data on millions of its users. Now Facebook to data ‘Chat’. Some researches prove a relation between the increase in arrest warrant by police in the USA and provision of users personal data to US intelligence by social media platforms and telecommunication companies
What can we do – SAFETY PLAN

<>If we remove the ability to be identify, we remove the ability to be a target
<>We cannot hide completely but we can use tools that buy us and others time 

1. ToR browser is a traffic analysis privacy with secure backup use by human rights activist worldwide
When you use a Tor client, your Internet traffic is routed through Tor’s network. The traffic travels through several randomly selected relays (run by volunteers), before exiting the Tor network and arriving at your destination. This prevents your Internet service provider and people monitoring your local network from viewing the websites you access. It also prevents the websites themselves from knowing your physical location or IP address – they’ll see the IP address and location of the exit node instead. Even the relays don’t know who requested the traffic they’re passing along. All traffic within the Tor network is encrypted.

Tor strength is on using it to download Martus and then, use them together for greater protection.

2. Martus is an open-source technology tool that assists nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) collect information on human rights abuses. Martus cannot recover your data should you lose you log in. Martus and Tor are the most use tools but activists worldwide to protect their messages, browsing, location and identity. Tor and Martus are runned by volunteers. 

3. Off The Record (OTR) OTR messaging allows you to have private conversations over instant messaging by providing: Encryption (No one else can read your instant messages); Authentication (You are assured the correspondent is who you think it is); Deniability (The messages you send do not have digital signatures that are checkable by a third party. The messages are authentic and unmodified); Perfect forward secrecy (If you lose control of your private keys, no previous conversation is compromised)

4. Red Phone provides end-to-end encryption for your calls, securing your conversations so that nobody can listen in. - Easy to use available for Google and iPhone.

5. Private GSM provides end-to-end encryption for your message/chat. Available on iPhone.

6. Ostel promotes the use of free, open protocols, standards and software, to power end-to-end secure voice communications on mobile devices, as well as with desktop computers.

7. Gibberbot is a secure chat client capable of firewall and filter circumvention, surveillance blocking and end-to-end encryption. Available for Android phones.

8. Text Secure is a security enhanced text messaging application that serves as a full replacement for the default text messaging application. Available for android phones.

9. Crabgrass is software libre web application designed for social networking, group collaboration and network organizing.

Always remember the followings:
  • We are not told the whole truth about platform and social media applications we are using.
  • There is privacy by policy and privacy by design. Most telecommunication and Internet platforms show what their policy/T&Cs say but not what their design do. Never trust privacy by policy – if you can, verify their codes to see if they don’t do more than what they say
  • Any device/app that can help you access/recover your data when you have lost your password  - has total access to your data. Dropbox has become very popular. The fact that it can help you recover your data means it is not 100% secured.
The world is dark, immoral and disturbia. As democratic and repressive regimes worldwide are upping surveillance of their citizens, it is important that self-consciously everyone of us takes action to protect what we still can - our privacy.

"Internet insecurity is like HIV – none of us is immune. We all need to use ‘Active’ protection" says Jacob Appelbaum.

Please let us know - should you have used any of the above tools.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Citizen Journalism Project – Ups and Downs

For the past two years, I have been responding to questions and e-mails concerning my experience with the citizen participation project that I thought to write few paragraphs about challenges we faced, our approach, achievements as well as our failures. Here we go - I hope it helps…

The Citizen Journalism in Africa (CJA) Project was a partnership project between SANGONeT and Hivos aimed at building capacity of civil society organisations to use online and offline citizen journalism as a mean of publication, lobby, networking and knowledge sharing with their constituencies.

Participating organisations were selected on the basis of their previous involvement with Hivos. Eighty organisations in six African countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique have been trained.

How well participants performed

a. Member satisfaction, including initiative, coordination among developing country partners and satisfactory correction of problems. 

The fact that some organisations were based in remote rural areas was a challenge. However, Country Focal Points (CFPs) - organisations trained to train other organisations, were able to take the programme/training materials and train at rural level in Africa languages that the audience could easily understand.  As a result, online newsletters and rural forum groups have been created. Some of our member organisations became very active using in some cases community radio to encompass the lack of internet coverage in some areas.

b.   Effectiveness of key personnel including:  effectiveness and appropriateness of personnel for the job; and prompt and satisfactory action when problems with members where identified.

The CJA project aimed at providing participating organisations with an alternative platform (website) for online expression. But more importantly, the project strived to transfer skills that would allow stakeholders organisation improve their work and advocacy.

Among other capacity building tools, the project offered an online module: e-learning digital telling and writing course. To help the project users to improve their writing skills. The project had acquired the services of a consultant, professional journalist (Brett Davidson) who role was to proofread stakeholders' e-learning course submissions, blogs and articles and re-sent the edited version with track changes to them for approval before publishing on the CJA website.

The project had 80 participating organisation based in six countries. In 2009 the CJA website was translated in Portuguese in 2010 to allow stakeholders in Mozambique directly download translated content in Portuguese for use offline since telephone communication was very poor between South Africa and Mozambique.

c. Timeliness of performance and efficient operation of tasks. 

One of the characteristic of the CJA project was the use of intermediate organisations. These CFPs included two selected representatives from organisations in each participating country. CFPs were trained to train others CSOs and community media organisations as to achieve better coordination and participation within the project. CFPs acted as the local learning and networking hub to implement peer-to-peer training activities. The Project Manager budgeted for CFPs’ training and operation tasks cost.

d. Control cost and forecast costs

The use of CFPs aimed at reducing the cost of traveling and to also overcome language barrier (translation cost) as to ensure efficient participation of all stakeholder organisations.

Instances of good or poor performance, especially in the most critical areas

It was critical for SANGONeT and HIVOS that the CJA project gave special attention to the development of sound and ethical journalistic skills to protect the project’s stakeholder organisations/participants from repressive legislations. Therefore, the CJA’s toolkit manual had a compilation of media regulatory acts of each stakeholder respective country as well as a course on ethic journalism.

Nevertheless, the project faced poor performance and had to manage few crises.
It is a fact that ethics challenge citizen journalists since they think they have the right to say what is in their minds and express themselves freely. At the same time, bloggers are at very nature partial, unaccountable and subjective. As a consequence, in respect of Internet policies, in more than one occasion we had to contact users and inform them that they had no right to share content which was not creative commons licensed and should not publish facts that could not be checked or proven.

List significant achievements and/or problems.

One of biggest challenge in implementing such a project is the problem of diversity and skills. Half of stakeholder organisations in the project did not have the ‘technical-know-how’. That caused some participants to not participate freely in discussions while others felt uncomfortable blogging.

However, through perseverance, the CJA project was able to create a sense of belonging, a safe bridge across backgrounds using tools such as social media especially Facebook and Twitter feed. As result, stakeholder organisations could identify each other social life beyond their professional engagement and built trust which led to increasing their participation.

Overcoming broadband and high cost of Internet connectivity was a major challenge in most participating countries. Access to broadband is indispensable for online activism or participation. Stakeholder organisations in Zimbabwe and Mozambique could not afford Internet cost. When they could, the connectivity was very poor. This has negatively impacted on their participation in the project.

We have been challenged by the so-called ‘brain drain’. Many NGOs have lost skilled personnel since they could not afford their services due to lack of funding.The instability in human resources within our member organisations had a negative impact on the project.  

Both mobile and social network have shown potential in activism and community building. It is unfortunate that the CJA project was unable to take create/upgrade the CJA website to a mobile friendly site as planned. Faced with unpredicted funding situation within key stakeholder organisations, the project focused on getting the basics right and keep on training their new members.

Among achievements; in 2009, an article on the need for fast Internet connection in Uganda posted on the CJA website has been republished by one of Uganda’s main news website. An another article from CJA titled “The Boda boda battle”, a story about motorcycle taxis in Kampala was published in the Mobility Magazine. SANGONeT’s NGO Pulse e-newsletter also republished a number of articles from the CJA website.

Last but not least, some of our trained members have become Africa’s most admired young ICT advocates and have been speaking in conferences and interviewed by mainstream media such as BBC and Al Jazeera. At date, many CJA stakeholder organisations have become vibrant users of ICT tools and human rights activists.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Picture that #Kony2012 Video Does Not Show

Do not just like a craft…know more, learn about the author.
A lot has been said about #Kony2012 trending video by Jason Russell (of Invisible Children, NGO apparently ‘raising awareness’ about crimes committed by  the rebel Joseph Kony. One view that stands for me is that we should be careful before supporting such a view in the video. What are real intentions??? Nowadays, those who born in conflict zone in Africa, especially the great lakes region have learnt to be cautious of such good and soul moving content. I prefer not to say much, I recommend you to read two Ugandan bloggers; Javie, an activist and Maureen, a ‘visible child’ as she put it herself. END comment: This is a picture of Jason Russell and friends…the activist claiming to care about children in Uganda more than his fame.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's complicated

I am a married man and blissful father to a daughter. But it’s 1:34 am on 30 December 2011 and I am still not in bed. Bloody husband…

I have been watching (naked news) naked truth, a reality documentary by Michael Moore which washed the sleep off my eyes.

I’ve realised that as the world economy navigates a downturn and inequalities threaten the world’s peace with wars of the poorest against the richest, life goes on.

Life goes on as millions die in hunger in Haiti and Somalia even if their situation is no more in the news headline;

Life goes on as millions of children are enslaved in China and DR Congo to make our shoes and feed the hype for new technologies;

Life goes on as thousand of livelihoods are at risk in island such as Mauritius, polluted by intensive exploitation and holidays waste;

Life goes on as defense departments fund billion dollars researches on unman military technologies while international law is lazy to keep the pace;

Life goes on as the world is losing its humanism.

Fahrenheit 9/11 has reminded me why this year, my wife and I have chosen Top TV, an alternative to DSTV; a choice for more user generated content such as Current TV over mainstream media funded content.

Reality of events happening in the world is not as real as painted on TV or by governments. Of cause we all know that. But to realise how far the greed kill nowadays it’s really upsetting.

The year 2011 brought us stories of courage, success and inequalities as ever before.

I would wish that in 2012 you and I have a meaningful life by standing for the truth and justice.

'As complicated and desperate a situation may seem, a good will shall overcome the chains of injustice'

Let kill the greed in us.