Indymedia was a big, almost world wide project, born in Seattle, VA, USA, in 1999. It was the first ‘place’, the very first internet outlet where any one with a computer and an internet connection could post their own news, their own text and media content.
Even when the technology and the idea was eaten up, as most inspiring things are, by The Capital, (read myspace, facebook, twitter) indymedia has kept its appeal by allowing what the big corporations don’t: to post anonymously, to the point that there are still some indymedia outlets scattered in what we call western countries.
People behind indymedia were and still are committed to this myth of human rights and among them the right to free speech and to privacy of communications. Even people who are no longer behind any indymedia project, are now behind other projects with the same ethos, maybe, namely, that in order to defend human rights, we can not use the tools that are in the hands of those who are destroying those human rights.
The indymedia project became a reality, in many cities and towns in the world, firstly by face to face meetings, then by mailing lists. Some publicly archived, others, and more and more, privately, especially as The Capital saw or glimpsed the threat that this project posed. This mailing list system organised over a thousand volunteers, more or less effectively, until The Capital developed much cooler (and ego-oriented) tools (see the big corporations above) that made indymedia irrelevant in the eyes of their former millions of users – and then came the mobile apps that allowed to use these cool applications without the need of a bulky computer and a separate camera – all were embedded on a single device that fit on the palm of your hand.
So even for those of us conscious about the privacy of our personal conversations, smartphones and what you could do with them became so cool, we moved the bulk of our communications – now called our online social lives- to them, leaving now archaic things like encrypted email to a fraction of those communications, if at all used. With encrypted email, there are only so many things that you can do. Not masses of people will follow all you have to say if you only use encrypted email. A simple look around us show us that most people born during these past twenty years don’t even need a computer, some have only learned to use the internet in terms of facebook and whatsapp. I see a similar picture when working with people over the age of sixty.
So it is not only that smartphones and what you can do with them are far cooler than what you can do with encrypted email. You need to go to that public square because that is where people are prepared to hang out. You can’t take them to the allyway to inspire them for human rights. The Capital has made ‘that’ public square so brutally attractive for the ‘masses’ and for the activists alike, to the point that it is not possible to lure us back to the alley way.
The Capital has effectively lured us away, from security – privacy tools and into cool, insecure devices like smartphones and now, coming strongly, smart TVs.
Encryption (specifically, and without getting too tangled into acronyms, the kind of technology that Thunderbird’s Enigmail uses) has proven unbreakable in terms of human life span. The Capital, or maybe more accurately The System on which it rests, has admitted that it has not been able to break encryption. So next step has been to manage to make it irrelevant, by luring us away from using it.
At the same time and place as the birth of indymedia, was the birth of riseup as an email provider. In these nineteen years, collectives providing secure communications have mushroomed in at least two continents. And the security of communications provided by some of these collectives has improved to the point that emails between said collectives, even if not encrypted with Enigmail technology, are encrypted “en route”, without the sender or receiving having to do any extra task.
The summary of this article on the New York Times (external link) is, Wikileaks received and published leaked documents purported to be from CIA detailing ways to access private communications by ‘hacks’ in applications like Signal, “before” messages are encrypted, or “after” they are decrypted, therefore making encryption, in these specific applications, completely irrelevant.
And it is not only encryption. It is about using tools embedded in The Capital, or using the tools created by friends of ours. Even not using encryption, your communications with your friends, and the project you are creating with them, are going to fare better using our own tools. The Capital’s tools may be more reliable and stable and of course cooler than ours, but they will only be available while The Capital concedes. With about ten groups closed down a week on average by facebook and twitter also routinely closing down politically oriented accounts, it is the survival of those communications that are at stage, even if our donated-based servers go off line from time to time.
So, among ourselves veteran activists, please continue to use the secure email services our ageing comrades are still maintaining. And when in the public square, let’s continue to invite people to know about the tools they are using and the tools they could.
So, you are using a corporate email provider