Author | Open Culture Foundation

It is the first time, RightsCon was being held as a fully online event. However, it is not rare in 2020 since COVID-19 became the global pandemic. Although we all look forward to attending the event in person and to meet old friends and new friends face to face, it is great to see 2020 RightsCon instead of a cancellation statement.

One of the challenges when planning the global online event is the agenda timeline. Since Open Culture Foundation (OCF) is based in Taipei, Taiwan. Most RightsCon sessions happened between 20:00 pm – 04:00 am in our time zone. It is tough to participate after midnight. But still, this is not a big problem when talking about global online events.

What OCF participated as the speaker?

Session topic: “National Digital ID systems in Asia: Mapping considerations of potential benefits and harms"

OCF co-spoke with partners: Jun E, Ming-Syuan Ho and Malaysian lawyer Louis by using Taiwanese/Malaysia NDID as an example to let audiences (especially Asia participants) understand national digital identity (NDID) systems comprehensively, as well as collect and exchange international experiences.

In Asia, governments are following the identify-digitized trend from Europe countries and try to move towards implementing national digital identity (NDID) systems. 

Besides, due to COVID-19 pandemic, people become more dependent on the government’s epidemic prevention with private data surveillance, most of them involve the digital identity system. To implement policies faster, most governments hide back the risks and advocate the convenience and efficiency of digital identity systems to their citizens.

However, every coin has two sides. The controversial usages of NDID have already surfaced, such as China’s social credit system which enables digital authoritarianism, or India’s “automation of poverty” where algorithmic decision-making on social welfare has caused death related to starvation. In lower income countries, these systems have the potential to change the lives of millions who are unregistered and have no access to critical services; in higher income countries they can provide better user experiences and can foster economic growth.

During the session,  the main goal of sharing Taiwanese/Malaysia NDID issues is mainly to throw a sprat to catch a whale, making more people in different countries notice and discuss the NDID problem.

Here, we listed some important opinions in the RightsCon online chatting room as below:

  1. Do you know where all this information is stored? Because here, in Brazil, for ex., there is a public company responsible for the data of all citizens and there was a big issue some months ago because, believe me or not, our government wanted to sell this company to the private sector.
  2. The convenience seems to be avoiding issues in the offline world i.e. waiting in lines at banks etc. But people in general don’t have a good sense about the inconvenience of the consolidation of this information on cards from identity fraud to increasing SPAM and targeted ads to monitoring your every move. Is anyone working on raising awareness on this?
  3. In India, they are already looking at cashing in on the data that gets so generated, by companies and by the government. Personal information is systematically being re-defined as a ‘public good’ and as a ‘resource’ to boost the economy.
  4. In S.Korea, the Residential Registration Number is so strong so even the Internet is working by real name system.
  5. We should be concerned with what data companies are allowed to collect, track, keep, use, trade in. That I speak in public does not mean that my speech can be appropriated to commercial use. And surveillance technologies are the price that companies seem extremely willing to pay for using the government to get at our data.

What OCF observed as the audience?

The time of most RightsCon sessions happened after working hours in Taipei, hence, the observations described below were gathered from different OCF members according to the session they attended. 

Mainly, the session topics OCF focused on related to cybersecurity, surveillance and privacy rights. Also, under our observation, it is not easy to catch the full information when the session is not in our native language and online. Hence, most valuable information we can take away are practical tools and information links. 

  1. The tools for the frontline

Since the digital interference from China dramatically increased in the past few years, how to protect self is raising concern in Asia, especially for activists, journalists, and protesters. However, development of cybersecurity for civil society in Asia is much behind if compared with the rest of the world. That is why RightsCon is so important to us, we learned a lot from other international projects, there are few tools getting from Rightscon sessions we believed are vaulabed for human rights groups in the region. 

The kit is developed by Rapid Response Network (RaReNet) and CiviCERT. The target users of the kit include cybersecurity trainers, NGO workers, civil movement organizers, and journalists. The Kit designed several cris scenarios. Each scenario includes a) how to diagnose the problems? b) what you will face? c) what you can do for the next? 

Digital First Aid Kit supports at least 6 languages. They also provide off-line documents. You can download into your computer in case the emergency happens.  lt is also an open-source project. 

Many embassy staff get involved in civil movements deeper and deeper. They will need more cybersecurity awareness and skills to protect themself and their civil partners . The manual was developed in late 2019. It categories the information into 12 cards which are easy and fast to get what is needed. 

Digital Safety Manual is not only useful for embassy staff, but also useful for every activist or NGO staff with international operations will find the manual too.  Because It is authorized under CC-BY-SA, to translate it into our own language could be a convenient way to improve our cybersecurity training materials.  

  • During the protests

The session – A world in revolution: lessons and tactics from 2019 protests, presented a great discussion and sharing about how the people over the world share the knowledge when acting in protests. Such as Hong Kong, how they minimize the harm from the tear gas, or how they use Airdrop to share protest info, does that knowledge can be used elsewhere?  Such as Lebanon, the protesters learned the skills about handling the tear gas from Hong Kong,  people even generated more protests manuals to help worldwide protests. Of course, the discussion in Rightscon focused more on types of government digital threats (censorship, social media monitoring etc.) or digital tactics to circumvent threats.  

After COVID, the oppressions are bigger, but the room for the protests are getting smaller; however, it is even more important for people fighting for the freedom of expression during the pandemics. The speakers and the audiences in the sessions provide many useful links, those could be the wonderful lessons when we are facing the critical protests.  The links including:      

  1. Keep a health digital life – 

During our work to assist NGOs to promote cybersecurity, we frequently meet this problem: NGOs are unaware of the demand for cybersecurity. They think cybersecurity is something too technical and far away from their jobs or lives. Thus, we are impressed by the easy understanding introduction for non-technical people in this session. Below are our notes.

In the beginning, the speaker shared “what’s the data”. Data is almost about everything in our lives, which includes:

  • the people we know
  • the thing we do
  • the place we visit
  • the timing we browse something
  • the information to analyze our intention
  • the information to predict our behavior

By breaking the abstract concept of “data” into several specific applications related to our daily lives, the speaker gave vivid pictures to attendants. That’s a useful reference for us to know how to arouse NGO fellows’ interest in cybersecurity.

After clarifying the importance of data protection, the speaker then introduced several tips. The speaker introduced “Data Detox Kit”. This website provides basic but practical ways to strengthen the protection mechanism in smartphones step by step. What’s best is that there are many language editions on the website, including traditional Chinese!

Besides, the speaker pointed out there are many apps that would save our data. Thus these apps can analyze the best methods to affect our decision making. However, we always have an alternative–turn to use open source apps or the service values our privacy.

  1. Regional Meetups – Asia 

Asia is a wide region too, and the issues vary from area to area.  Participants from Central Asia, South Asia, SouthEast Asia, and NorthEast Asia brought out different topics, it includes China censorship and internet shutdown. However, all the participants in the meetups agreed, we should have more online gatherings! The meetups in huge conferences once a year is not enough, we should link with each other in Asia more often to accumulate our powers, but the problem is “HOW?”.  At least for now, the discussion seems to end after the RighsCon meetup ended, there are no notes or network groups were kept. 

COVID-19 won’t disappear in the short-time. How to develop a better model to keep interacting, networking, and collaborating through the online event will also be an important task. RightsCon is a great attempt and many lessons can be learned from it.   

The article is licensed by CC 4.0. It was also published on APC’s blog.

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