#OPENVOICES.

We're taking democracy online. Read about how we're giving people the power to step up and speak out.

28 March 2019

Journeying through the Dark Web

On the 26th of March, we invited our community to join us on a journey through the Internet’s eerie underworld, guided by Leonhard Weese, President of the Bitcoin Association in Hong Kong (who also moonlights as a dark web genius).

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After a brief exposition of its history, Leo focussed on Tor (The Onion Router), a browser similar to Firefox but specifically designed to protect user identities.

FYI: Tor can be installed on regular laptops, as well as iPads and smartphones. Installing the programme is easy, running it and using it is not very different than using any other type of browser. Through Tor, you can visit your regular websites on the surface web, but Tor also allows you to visit sites that are exclusively located in the dark web. This is slightly more complicated. (If you need to refresh your memory on what the dark web was again... have a look at one of our earlier posts)

According to Leo, browsing with Tor is similar to sending an envelope around the world with multiple envelopes inside, each time instructing the recipient to send the package on to another address, until at last it reaches its destination where its contents can be securely decrypted. Leo also explained that the more people use Tor or run a ‘relay node’ (basically an intermediary post-office that forwards envelopes), the better user identities are protected.

Apart from learning how to find .onion sites, which are sites specifically designed and only available via Tor (as opposed to .coms, .orgs, .govs, etc.), Leo also introduced OnionShare to the audience. This service allows users to share files (of any size) anonymously and quickly. We also had a quick look at onion versions of WikiLeaks, Hidden Wiki, ProPublica and Facebook.

Of course, there were many questions from the audience about the infamous drug and arms markets, freelance hackers, assassins for hire, live streaming torture channels and other illegal content, but after careful consideration we came to the conclusion that most of such sites are just people trying to make a quick buck (without offering any actual service).

This doesn’t mean that the high degree of anonymity offered by the dark web is unattractive to criminals, but it is also vital for human rights defenders in repressive regimes, journalists to exchange sensitive footage and information, for citizens that want to access news publications blocked in their own country, or even just for the average Joe that doesn’t want governments monitoring their Internet activity.




What would be the first thing you'd look for if you were on the dark web?

 

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So why the dark web? Here are a few reasons:

 
    • You can access almost anything (if not more)

      The dark web offers a way for people living in heavily censored environments to access information, such as news or television broadcasts, from around the globe without government filtering, "interpretation" or censorship. Some sites are exclusively available on the dark web.

    • You can pretty much say or do anything

      The dark web let’s you pretty much share and say anything (not always for better). But what this does mean, however, is that activists, journalists, marginalised individuals, dissidents and, of course, whistle-blowers are able to come together for a greater good.

    • You can stay under the radar

      Especially when used with a VPN, the dark web basically provides an environment where data about your person is not constantly being mined and used for a wide range of commercial purposes (ever wondered how Instagram just knew you wanted that face cream?). If you’re on a mission to do good, the dark web provides plenty of platforms (such as forums) to connect with other like-minded users and rally to action. 


Sounds great, right?
We’d tend to agree but before you get too excited,
here are some reasons the dark web may fail you.

 

 

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Much of it is just awful

The dark web's nature attracts criminal activity ranging from the sales of illegal goods to the trading of illicit pornography. The dark web also operates as a hub of illegal activity allowing for criminals to communicate without a trace within exclusive, invite-only chat rooms. Not to mention dirty secrets or bank PINs up for sale.

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It’s a web of cybercrime 

If visitors to the dark web are not careful, a user can be tracked and their personal details can be stolen and used against them. And, of course, chances are your dark web purchases won’t always arrive and since everyone’s anonymous… what are you going to do about it?

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Navigating the dark web isn’t easy

While anyone can access the dark web, doing so in a safe manner requires some skills and know-how. It also takes some practice to navigate the dark web, as search engines that operate within the dark web are not as straightforward as, say, Google or Yahoo!. Also, authorities are constantly taking sites down and the sites or forums you can visit often require an invite or complicated registration process.

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There aren’t any rules

Because users are pseudo-anonymous and there are hardly any laws or regulations that are enforced on the dark web, users are pretty much left to their own devices (pardon the pun). It is difficult to build trust over the dark web and if something were to go wrong, authorities are unlikely to be able to help (that’s assuming they’re willing to).
human rights entrepreneurs

Human rights defender or not, there’s a lot that the dark web has to offer. The heightened awareness of privacy and censorship issues on the Internet marks a movement towards maturity for us netizens. However, it also raises the prospect of more mainstream uses of the dark web.

As we continue to debate the contentious world of data privacy, you can join us as we carry on the conversation with our hacker friends on 17 April in Hong Kong.

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21 March 2019

Freedom, Yay or Nay?

Is freedom in decline? Depending on who you asked on our panel, you would have either gotten a LOUD yes or a resentful no.

 

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On the panel were William Nee, a human rights strategy advisor at Amnesty International, Nury Vittachi, a journalist and published author, and Dr. Tom Daly, a legal consultant and expert on democracy building. The panel was moderated by Rhea Mogul, from South China Morning Post.

Resentful because “freedom” (as with most human rights principles) has often been defined through a Western lens rather than one that seeks to represent universal interests. But of course, in defence of the rest of the panel, a recent report by Freedom House claims that for the 13th year in a row, freedom around the world is in decline: “democracy is in retreat”. According to the report, over 68 countries suffered net declines in political and civil liberties. However, as one of our panellists argued, compared to no less than a century ago, today we enjoy more freedom than ever. Nuri also argued that freedom is often seen through the lens of Western liberal democracy and that we have to remember that liberal democracy is young, not the most popular kid in class and may not be the future.

East or West, there is no scenario where citizens speaking up, holding a government to account, or calling out corporate misconduct, should be killed or let alone punished. Front Line Defenders notes that a record number of activists were killed in 2018, marking the deadliest year for human and land rights defenders ever.

We at We The People strongly hold the belief that everyone and anyone should enjoy minimum standard of freedom and rights — and that across the political spectrum no one

should be persecuted for doing what is right.

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Of course ensuring this level of protection requires some degree of compromise against the rise of hate speech and fake news that run counter to freedom. 

While there may be differences of opinion about what constitutes a healthy form of freedom, all human rights and freedoms are relative to one and another. And although the prospect of a benevolent dictator’ running a nation can be quite attractive, every autocratic regime risks the slippery slope to totalitarianism and popular repression. As William put it, “it is a very intuitive sense to pursue freedom". And he’s right, everyone pursues freedom to some degree and everyone should be able to do so.

We all know by now that technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, digital technology makes it possible for us to access information more easily, communicate between and beyond communities, and rally fellow citizens around a cause. On the other hand, as Tom stated, in the way we use the Internet and social media in particular, we seem to be giving up a lot of our freedoms as well. If you have Amazon's Alexa in your living room, is she listening to your conversations and pillow talk (some people think Alexa is)? Do you know for sure that your WhatsApp-messages are truly private? How would you feel if you found out that WeChat is leaking your data? We mean, it is. Even if you are fine with all of this, you should at least have the freedom to know and then the freedom to do something about it.

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Imagine what would happen if citizens around the world are able to connect, without government interference, without censorship or the threat of persecution. Imagine what would happen if we could keep an eye out for one another, speak up and as a borderless collective put pressure on our leaders. Sure, freedom as a Western concept of liberal democracy may not be universally applicable, but we can all agree on basic principles of human rights and freedoms (AKA activists and citizens should not be arbitrarily detained, tortured, and in some cases, even killed).  

 

Which is why we work so hard to ensure that no one is afraid to do what is right.

**

Of course, this conversation is far from over. If you’ve missed our last event or want to come to our next event, check out what's happening here 

 

human rights entrepreneurs

 

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4 March 2019

How Online Safe Spaces Are Changing The Internet

A little while ago, we brought together our community together with a panel of experts to talk about online safe spaces. Now, if you’re wondering what online safe spaces are, just think of secret Facebook groups, closed WhatsApp and Instagram groups, invite-only forums and other online collectives that primarily aim to offer a safe and supportive environment for a set of users (we particularly like this one).

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For a rape survivor, journalist, or persecuted minority, online safe spaces, just as their physical counterparts, provide a secure environment to share stories, foster support, gather ideas, and celebrate underrepresented identities without being ridiculed for it.

Digital safe spaces are often more accessible and easy to manage (with some offering the extra security of anonymity) but they are also increasingly risky with threats posed by fake news, hate speech, cyber bullying, and intrusive surveillance.

Here's what we found with our panellists Dr. Angela Daly, a socio-legal scholar and digital rights activist, Michael Gold, senior editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit, and Tiffany Huang, founder of Instagram profile Spill Stories.


1. It's all about trust

Online, nothing is as it seems. While it may feel safer to share personal stories online, chances are you can’t bet on who you’re dealing with. Interacting over the Internet, specifically within a ‘Safe Space’ requires an incredible amount of trust (and countless assumptions).

 

2. Who's in charge? 

The basic idea behind safe spaces is that people at the fringes are able to express themselves with #NoJudgement, but of course online speech has its limits. Racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are often equally common online, so who's to decide which content stays and which goes? Should groups self-regulate or risk being clamped down on by public authorities?

 

3. 'Filter bubbles' 

The idea here is that when like-minded people come together to share similar perspectives, it doesn’t really open up conversations beyond what they already agree on. We do appreciate, however, that for some spaces aimed at supporting the protection or recovery of a certain group (such as rape survivors) or more specialist groups (like journalists) this may be required. What this risks, however, is the tendency to be ostracised from the mainstream conversation.


4. But how safe is it, really?
 

As the Internet is currently set up, true online safety is hard to come by. With the rise of safe spaces, prying governments and data-hungry corporations have risen in their ability to infiltrate, patrol and monitor safe spaces. In turn we’re also seeing more and more activists being persecuted —and in many cases detained or killed — based on their online activity.

 

5. A digital tug-of-war 

As we look ahead, one thing’s for sure: online safe spaces will continue to pop up everywhere. Across the Internet, on social media, deep within the dark web, or on the blockchain, users will continue to need and will continue to form communities with mutual interests, aimed at fostering support. But this in turn threatens the heightened risk of surveillance, censorship, and persecution of netizens, especially as authorities and lawmakers aim to regulate online behaviour more and more.

But we’re staying optimistic. It's not just that we agree with our panellists who rightfully predicted the likeliness of more unfiltered real content along with an increased representation of minority voices online (although our panel also stressed, nay screamed, the risks!) but also because we truly believe that these challenges can be solved to some extent, if not fully. And of course, as our panel put it, what is needed is a dedicated platform that truly embodies the values and goals of a safe space while meditating the risks — did we mention the We The People Platform?
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28 January 2019

Will You Speak For Them? That’s cute, but perhaps let them speak for themselves.

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If you've been following us for a while  you likely know how much we care about giving people a voice so they can step up and speak out on their own terms (excuse the shameless mission plug). Despite the big leaps in human rights protections and secure technology alike, speaking up is becoming increasingly dangerous: it can get you on a blacklist, arrested, disappeared, or killed. In fact, more activists were killed in 2018 alone than in over a decade.

But this also means confronting the difficult truth that over 10 million stateless refugees don’t have a voice and chances are they won’t anytime soon. On 13 January 2019, we heard from refugees as they shared their experiences with our community at Kafnu Hong Kong.

“Refugees are not beggars. We too want to contribute something to society.”

It is not surprising that there was a sense of frustration: not because refugees are angry, but because they have been held against their circumstances and made to feel less than human for much of their lives. But the answer is not simply more aid, more assistance, and more hand-me-downs. These will only work until they don’t — and currently these quasi-humanitarian solutions are proving to work less and less.

If nations are to embrace this qualified, capable, and promising population, they must see refugees as equal to their own citizens. This may not need to be in the form of naturalisation — but at the very least refugees must be granted basic rights and freedoms, and the opportunities to create change.

 

Between our two panellists, we heard a tale of two cities. Harmony, an ambitious student and part-time model of West African origin came to Hong Kong as a child. While her parents have told her very little about their decision to seek asylum, she and her family recently became one of the few hundred people (out of over ten thousand asylum seekers) whom the Hong Kong government has officially recognised as valid ‘torture claimants’ (not our lingo). Because of this, Harmony can now legally work and undertake a tertiary education — she can also be seen in public and engage in wider society with a reduced risk of retribution.

John Outsider, a middle-aged fireman turned engineer who fled the Middle East, is still seeking asylum. Unlike Harmony, John joins several thousands of asylum seekers in Hong Kong who wait in limbo while their cases make their way through Hong Kong’s slow and prejudiced Universal Screening Mechanism (or USM), a system that has been the subject of widespread criticism largely due to its failure to meet international human rights standards. John does not have the right to work or pursue an education, but rather must depend on less than 40 Hong Kong Dollars a day in food stamps (that’s a little more than 5 US dollars, on a good day).

“We have in mind that ‘we are all equal’, but the reality is that what passport you carry and how much money you have matters – not how good you are or what value you have.”

When asked by the audience why he ‘chose’ to come to Hong Kong, John explained that when “there is a fire and your life is in danger, you don’t choose. You run to the nearest exit.” Now, he is basically stuck: he is not allowed to work, has no legal status and no passport.

So who will speak for them?

While there is no public recourse, a few civil society organisations exist that advocate for the betterment of refugees. But not all refugees are happy, certainly not John who feels that the needs of asylum seekers are often second to token-giving and saviour politics. What is clear is that they want to be their own advocates; tell their own stories; fight their own fight. While taking to the streets or holding up a sign in protest may effectively have them deported from Hong Kong, there is a growing sense of solidarity within the asylum seeker space. Hong Kong Refugee Union for one is a refugee-led, refugee-focused group whose mission is to “empower members to selflessly assist each other and actively participate in all matters relating to the life of refugees and the development of the asylum sphere in Hong Kong according to the highest standards of human rights”.

An emerging trend

What is more promising than ever is that asylum seekers are turning to the Internet in order to find support, share stories, and create opportunities for progress. Unlike physical spaces, the Internet offers a low-cost, safer alternative that allows refugees to come together, start a conversation, and take real action. In a city like Hong Kong where refugees find themselves boxed up in caged homes or tiny 200 square foot apartments shared among 5-10 tenants, these new digital connections offer a beacon of hope.

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17 December 2018

"Can Technology Change The World?"

Can we really change the world with selfies, hashtags and vlogs? 


Probably not. 

Real, long lasting change requires education, dialogue, sacrifice and years of struggle.

But digital tools can definitely help! Better yet, they are key.  

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Human rights abusers are ahead of us, using digital tools to spread false information, silence dissent, amplify hate speech and put rights defenders at risk. The same tools, however, can help us document abuse, expose violations, and make our case loud and clear in a way that the will of the people cannot be ignored any longer.

We believe that if we, the people, embrace technology, make it our own and use it for good, that we can have an impact unlike anything the world has ever seen before.

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But we have to get better at this. Waaay better.
We have to get organised. So let’s get specific.

 
    • #Raise your game.

      Let’s not forget that our strength lies in numbers. There are plenty of people out there who care as much as you do about your cause. Whether you want to rid the oceans of plastic, curb racism or end child labour, by sharing your story on social media (and #tagging it) you can and you probably will find people who want to work with you. Raise awareness by raising your game.

    • Build a team.

      Build a team of like-minded darers and connect. Share a Dropbox, a Google-drive, get on Skype, set up a Slack account to get organised, build your strategy and start building a following online.

    • Get real: nothing is free. 

      Need funding for your campaign? Don’t be afraid to ask. For every person who gets annoyed at you, a hundred will admire your action and stand ready to support.

    • 'Caring = sharing' is sooo 2008.

      The challenge before you is not to get people’s attention, but to get them involved and move them up the ladder of engagement. ‘Caring = sharing’ isn't enough. It's boring, actually. So, learn about your following. Who are they? How old are they? Where do they live? What are their ideas? Talk to them and get them to share their experiences and skills with you.

    • Build momentum. 

      Conversations in the comments section are just the beginning. Get together if you can. Build a bond. Organise an event. Invite your neighbours, friends -other darers- and if some of your followers live far away, let them tune in through Facetime. Events are powerful moments. They are full of energy and releasing that energy all at once to achieve a certain goal, can be incredibly powerful. 

    • Be a force to be reckoned with.

      You want to pressure your local lawmaker? Get everyone to e-mail, call, message, post and speak up at once. And don’t take no for an answer. Record the process. Are greedy corporations ignoring you or being rude, post it online, tag them, and see how fast they can move to avoid a PR-crisis. 😉

       

      Now we're talking.

      And this is just one way. Social media is on fire and everyone knows it. But there is so much more out there, which we, the people, have barely begun to touch.


 

Think: blockchain.
No, it is not just for bitcoin-lovers.

 

It’s a technology that has a lot of different uses. Because of how it works, it could help certify that a video, image or digital document existed at a given time. An app like VideoVault, for instance, can provide videos - potentially containing evidence of human rights abuses - with a trusted time stamp, stored forever on the blockchain.

 

Today, blockchain-based systems may still be complicated, but so was the Internet only a few decades ago. Over time, we are going to see this technology open up to the mainstream and if we get on board fast enough, we can up our game like never before.

 

And we haven’t even begun to talk about exciting technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Open Hardware, Sensors and Drones.  

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Chances are you know someone who is ALL ABOUT TECH. Get together with them, get creative, work together and find out how you can use technology to drive change. If you’re wondering where to start, join the conversation here 

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