Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Practical advice for digital civil society (U.S. focused)

In The New Republic, Brian Beutler writes
"...we’re facing a moment that threatens equal protection, due process, free expression, democracy—. It’s not a drill."
Social justice advocates, reproductive rights activists, racial equity leaders, librarians, civil liberties protectors, and journalists have been doing the hard work of protecting our rights for a long time. They have been in the forefront of protecting themselves (and us) in digital civil society against precisely the concerns being raised across the U.S. nonprofit, philanthropic, and activist communities.

Since 1990 and the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (or maybe 1985 and founding of FSF) many have been warning that these same protections are needed in the digital age.

The newly elected U.S. president boasts of putting legal limits on the press and continues to show a deft hand at manipulating it. He's hired a white supremacist to work alongside him in the White House. He ran on a campaign of xenophobia, misogyny, and bigotry. We should take him at his word.

Civil society needs to stand up. This means ALL nonprofits and foundations. At the very least, these organizations need to stand by the activists who will be standing up. This is not a message just for the organizations and people who voted against the president-elect. The threats he has made to a free press, peaceable assembly and privacy are threats to an independent civil society. They are threats to all independent action.

All our civic action - from philanthropy to protest, from petitions to polling - now takes place on a digital infrastructure. Every organization that is dedicated to helping the vulnerable, to free expression, or that understands it is simply an institutionalized form of our right to peaceable assembly and private action for public benefit should realize now that their existence depends on the rights now threatened. As civil society has closed elsewhere, so has it now been directly, overtly, and rather unabashedly threatened from the people elected to lead our government. 

First, protect yourself and your organization and strengthen your partners.

Protect yourself - go to or host a #CryptoParty. Read these tips from The Intercept. Try these tips from the Electronic Frontier Foundation - Surveillance Self Defense

Train your staff -  See resources and workshops provided by the Library Freedom Project, From Aspiration and from TacticalTech Collective. Access Now offers a multilingual round-the-clock service free, 24-hour Digital Security Helpline for activists and civil society organizations.

Audit and improve your organizational governance policies and practices - DigitalImpact.io. Find colleagues you can work with at the Future of Privacy Forum. Organizations that provide capacity building, consulting, governance training, and technology support need to address digital governance and practices. It is not optional, it's integral to running a safe and effective organization.

Invest in your nonprofit partners' capacity through the work of TheEngineRoom, Benetech and the Center for Media Justice. Tools from Freedom of the Press Foundation, research from Data & Society and the Equal Future newsletter - check them all out. 

Report acts of hate to the Southern Poverty Law Center,  which has been tracking it for years and has seen a drastic increase since November 8, 2016. Ushahidi is also working on this. The American Library Association has these resources for safe actions by and for young people.

Second, realize that your organizational existence - to say nothing of your rights as a citizen - depend on free expression, freedom to associate, and the right to act privately. The laws that protect these rights are the bedrock upon which your organization exists. Fight for them. Nonprofit peers such as EFF, ACLU, Center for Democracy and Technology, EPIC, Public Knowledge - these organizations are on the front lines of the policy issues that matter to digital civil society.

Third, Share additional resources - send me comments, links, tweet me @p2173. Global friends - help us understand the global situation.


Anonymous said...

I want the non-profit in which I am involved (Jewish Family Service of San Diego) to be at the forefront where possible, but I am struggling to understand how the tips provided apply for a social services agency?

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks. Your agency has data on beneficiaries - emails, addresses, phone numbers, maybe SSNs. You have financial data on and about donors. You have photos of kids and elders, and meeting records of who was where when. All of this kind of information is now "digital data." If your staff/board use email, text messaging, or cell phones for work - they are exposing information in ways that can be hacked, phished, lost, or stolen. Every person who deals in any of the above information or with tools noted (phones, email, messaging) needs to be trained in safe practices, your agency needs to do a data inventory and develop practices from there and your board/executive leadership needs to continuously monitor and stay up to date on how digital data is being used in and by your organization. You work with and for vulnerable people - don't make them more vulnerable.

Because this blog is read by people around the world, I can't give you specific recommendations to tech training and resources in your area. The ones noted in the post will give you an idea of what you need and should be looking for.