Getting InfoActive!

Imagine spending 10 days with 150 amazing grassroots information activists from across the world. From Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, North America, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, all corners of Africa, India, Burma, Tibet, South East Asia, Korea and Australia.  Imagine being surrounded by techie activists, environmentalists, human rights defenders, LGBTI rights campaigners, sex workers, HIV/AIDS activists, all participating in or facilitating a huge range of workshop sessions and labs on every kind of technology you can think of. Not to mention two film nights with some 20 documentary films and two features, live bands, open mike sports and pool! This event exists. It was InfoActive Camp 2009 and was organized by Tactical Tech and Aspiration.

It wasn’t perfect and there were aspects of it that just didn’t worked for me: the shoe rule; something called ‘morning circle’ – which was supposed to be a way of bringing people together but to me seemed more like a morning cult gathering with love bombs and endless clapping for no apparent reason – and the biggest problem of all, the setting, which was not disability- or back-friendly. But I met some incredible people doing incredible work.  

Here are some of the things I learnt from the sessions I attended. Let’s start off with ‘Security and Privacy: Skype is insecure. Unless you are chatting about this evening’s dinner or what colour tiles to put in your toilet, GET RID OF IT.  Far safer is Gizmo, which I have had for about 2 years but never used. What’s wrong with Skype? It can be used as a backdoor entry to your data and conversations (chat, Voice) can be monitored. Digital footprints – what you leave behind as you surf the internet – is where the real scary stuff lies, but the solution is simple. Install Tor and if you are using Firefox (which you should be!) get the Firefox button which lets you toggle between enabling and disabling Tor. The downside is it uses up bandwidth, so if that is scarce then only use it for secure surfing.

Moving away from Security, GPS mapping using Open Street Maps is an exciting project which, unlike Google maps, enables you to edit and create your own maps. The ‘Digital Activism’ workshop which was run by Sami Ben Gharbia of Global Voices Advocacy was another excellent session for activists new to the digital world.

Ten days of intensive InfoActivism, 150 people and the intense heat of Bangalore, mixed with too many late nights and too much alcohol, left me personally exhausted but exhilarated at the same time. Now I am ready for a few days’ R&R somewhere quiet, with no people, no internet and the only sound that of birds and other tweeting creatures.

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