Tech for Climate Action & Social Justice
By Lara Louise Bevan-Shiraz, 17th June 2019
Facing climate crisis and the rise of social inequality and unjust politics, youth are being driven to protest in large numbers, and protest groups are further uniting to tackle these interconnected issues. Mobilising rapidly, using a mix of analogue and digital skills, protest groups are making rapid impact, knowing the issues we face are against the clock. From Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion, to the Women’s March and March for Science, to Pro-Democracy and Anti-Racism protests, youth are increasingly well informed and determined to press hard for systemic change.
The Telegram App is fast and secure. Picture credit: Telegram
Apps for Activism
This free app is extremely secure, and combines rapid streaming, file sharing and messaging, for protestors to motivate and mobilise:
Secret Chat function. Secret chats are not stored as part of the Telegram cloud, and can only be accessed on their original devices.
Cloud Server Encryption provides an extra layer of security for messages that are not selected to be “secret chat”, and which are stored on the Telegram cloud.
End-to-end encryption option. Messages in these one-on-one chats are encrypted with a key unique to the chat’s participants.
Blocks screenshots and screen captures; notification of attempted breaches.
Cannot be forwarded.
Two step verification.
Multi-device access, with active session check.
Super groups (to broadcast to unlimited members)
Private channels (up to 1000 members)
Telegram Bots such as @Pollbot can help groups to swiftly and democratically determine action in a decentralised fashion.
Does Telegram have any drawbacks?
End-to-end encryption must be applied by the user.
While Telegram doesn’t have as many censorship, tracking, and surveillance concerns, it encountered a large cyber attack during the June 2019 Hong Kong protests, forcing protestors to go analogue due to slower connectivity (but without their data being compromised).
How does Telegram compare to similar rapid messaging apps?
WhatsApp, Signal, and iMessage: while these have end-to-end encryption, they have limited file sharing, chats on Google Drive are not encrypted, and screen captures/ screenshots compromise security.
Periscope: useful for live streaming protests to multiple users.
Twitch: versatile gaming platform, allowing multiple live streams and mapping.
Precautions to take, with any messaging app, when taking non-violent direct action:
Apply end-to-end encryption options. These are not always default settings!
Know your rights!
Your country may have laws ensuring people have a right not to incriminate themselves, protecting you when refusing to give a pin to unlock your phone.
Turn off Face ID and Touch ID on iPhones so that you can’t be forced to unlock your handset this way.
Don’t use public Wi-Fi, as it renders your device as an open book.
Invest in an unlimited mobile data plan if you can, (many protestors opt for untrackable SIMs), so you can make a hotspot for your other devices.
Otherwise, use a VPN. A Virtual Private Network provides a secure connection to another network over the Internet.
Turn off all file sharing functions. For example, if using a Mac, turn off Airdrop.
Only use HTTPS websites. Secure Socket Layer connections have certificates to detail their enhanced encryption, and are more trustworthy. However, some hackers can use an SSLstrip to force sites to downgrade their connection to HTTP.
Avoid accessing any personal information, such as your passwords, banking, or giving out your telephone number or home address while connected to public Wi-Fi.
Be polite and courteous to counter-protestors and the police, online and offline.
The FireSafe app is extremely agile in crowded protests. Picture credit: HackerNoon
“The Internet of Us”
This peer-peer mesh networking app allows protestors to form a temporary, self-healing internet, without the need for a Wi-Fi connection or mobile data coverage.
Faster than any other network.
Phones within a 200m radius connect using Bluetooth and peer-peer Wi-Fi.
Messages jump from one device to the next, until they reach their intended recipient(s), using multi-hop and store-and-forward capabilities.
Ideal for crowded events: starts with a spark from a few people connecting using FireChat, and can rapidly expand as more people join.
The more people join, the faster the network functions.
Public communications (for anyone with the app in the vicinity).
Private communications (individually, or up to 50 people).
Create live chat rooms (accommodating 10,000s of simultaneous users), on any topic, by simply putting a # in any message.
Once attached to a reliable connection/ network, FireChat can also swiftly beam your messages worldwide.
Does Firechat have any drawbacks?
Chat rooms are open, risking surveillance.
However, FireChat’s developers, Open Garden, are working on private messaging and further encryption to protect freedom of speech.
Plant trees while you search. Picture Credit: ECOSIA
Take daily direct actions, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:
Ecosia: plant trees as you search. Works like Google.
TradeMade: trade anything. E.g. clothes for electronics, tickets for tutoring.
Buycott: Scan barcodes for product history. Notify unethical producers of boycott.
Apps such as Telegram use cybersecurity techniques and precautions like end-end encryption to help to keep our information private. For End-to-end Encryption, messages in one-on-one chats involve an encrypted key shared only between the chat participants, and there is also Cloud Server Encryption, which acts as another layer of security. For example, even though Telegram suffered lower connectivity during the Hong Kong protests, the data wasn’t breached, giving some assurance of its security.
Ecosia is a good search engine, when you are on a secure network, to start with when seeking to be more conscious with your online time. However, all devices are vulnerable if you are connecting to Public Wi-Fi, as Wi-Fi protected access (WPA2), counter to what its name indicates, is extremely vulnerable to hacking intercepts.
FireChat is an extremely exciting option for protestors or almost anyone in a crowd, anywhere, to create their own network, and its developers are working on secret messaging and enhanced encryption features.
NetAidKit is life-saving for war correspondents. Picture credit: Melanie Rieback
USB for Privacy
Next month, in this series on Tech for Climate Action & Social Justice, we will look at NetAidKit, designed by Melanie Rieback, of Radically Open Security: a tool for journalists, whistleblowers and activists.