For the first week of March several hundred internet freedom activists from all around the world gathered for the Internet Freedom Festival in the Las Naves collaborative space in Valencia, Spain for a wide variety of sessions addressing tools, policies and perspectives within privacy and security on the Internet. Trainers, developers, journalists, technologists and those simply curious to learn from 76 countries traded perspectives and skills while forming bonds to continue collaboration post-festival and strengthen support for each others work. Previously named the “Circumvention Tech Festival”, the event organizers placed a strong emphasis on creating a safe space for open collaboration without compromising privacy and identity for those attending at the risk of local oppressive governments learning of certain individual’s attendance. A strict no photography rule was set in place in addition to the Chatham House rule (not referring to identities in referencing quotes or points individuals made) for note taking and general future discussion of the topics presented. Attention was also put on meeting other attendees through prioritizing sessions with discussion and collaborative activities. Session topics ranged from threat modeling through holistic risk analysis to community networks and the process of flashing routers to build a mesh. The entire festival offered a beating pulse of local perspectives on digital privacy and security while simultaneously highlighting the need for global collaboration in regards to building tools, advocating policy and strengthening communications within this community and beyond.
The concept of “glocalization” which permeated throughout the event was perfectly introduced to me in the first session that I attended at the festival; Glocalization for Noobs: How to Design Tools for a Global Audience where panelists discussed and advocated for integrating the process of translation more tightly into software development. They discussed the translation of software going beyond localizing text and taking into consideration the entire user experience from perspectives of various regions. While many products are marketed towards specific areas, most software is used globally, or at the least have potential for wider adoption and would benefit from the review of testers in various locales. Importance on focusing attention on region specific points of view continued throughout the event where a handful of meetups dedicated time to discussing the state of Internet security and surveillance in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. Sessions also incorporated this focus recognizing and addressing the particular hurdles of regions. The session Network disconnections: Effects on Civil and Trade Rights included a short presentation on the regular disruptions in internet access people in Pakistan face and subsequent research followed by a general discussion about the broader topic of region-wide disruptions usually due to political pressure and what policy and economic arguments can be made in opposition. Other sessions focused on the general sense of considering global communities and allowing respective perspectives to be shared together. Privacy Across Cultures was dedicated to a discussion on what the impact of privacy and its absence has meant in various cultures beyond freedom of expression and focusing on more long term effects.
Beyond the diverse cultural representation at the event, there was also a wide array of representatives from tools, new and old. In one workshop session titled Deploy an emergency Libre-Mesh network with local services, we formed in small groups and flashed routers with libre-mesh to form a p2p network. It was one of the fastest and most simple efforts of flashing a router to build a mesh network that I’ve ever experienced – it took about 30 minutes total for all 7 groups (with a range of familiarity of flashing routers) to connect with each other. If mesh networks are something of interest to you or your community, I highly recommend checking out libre-mesh. Additionally, one of the evening’s featured a tool showcase of 15 technologies ranging from a service called Stingwatch for detecting and reporting locations of Stingrays (fake cellphone towers used by authorities for tracking individuals) to the more well known Freedombox (security and privacy focused software for personal servers). Unfortunately, I was not privy to this portion of the event beforehand and not aware of the status of the MVP launch, else I would have loved to participate and demo the SAFE network to the crowd. Alas, I was able to do so in a more intimate setting for a session of it’s own. Having attended the festival with the intention of presenting a more general session on improving communications on network topologies and ownership infrastructures (based on previous explorations of the topic), I was able to join several dozen others who created “self-organized” sessions which were added in the schedule as the week progressed. This session was much less interactive other than various questions from participants but because we have software to show now, I was able to finish the presentation with a successful demo of the SAFE Launcher and example app to a crowd for the first time!
Overall, the Internet Freedom Festival was a huge success from a personal perspective by highlighting a variety of topics from technology to communications and diversity. To achieve true internet freedom worldwide, we must consider localized efforts and understand that needs vary from region to region by listening rather than assuming. Digital security training has expanded throughout the world and understanding the array of obstacles that regions face will help us build better software. I feel confident that the SAFE network will be a strong example of building a diverse, global community (as we see it happening already) but also appreciate the strong reminder that this will happen much more efficiently if we put effort towards diversifying our perspective. While the MaidSafe core team has a regionally diverse team itself, community-based development and translation efforts will continue be essential if we want to make SAFE a truly global network. I really look forward to attending Internet Freedom Festival again next year with a proper SAFE network up and running while expanding my understanding even more to make the network accessible to more people (and hopefully capture a few other team members to attend as well).