Digital protest

Now and again, I submit secret text in blog posts using different steganography software found around the web.

I’m a fan of steganography. It’s a really quick and often easy way to quickly share a private message without having to set up a lot of kit and learn how it works. You can use images to send all kinds of  notions that may or may not be worth a 1,000 words. If people acted as much as they talked about being irate over mass data collection, then they’d be communicating this way more often. Use anything. Use silly, stupid methods and really strong ones. Use them for important messages, but use them for inane ones as well.

There’s an ever increasing industry of privacy workshops, seminars, talks and miscellaneous shin-digs.  In one session put on by the New Yorker,  everyone’s favourite live-streaming attendee, Edward Snowden offered a reminder of his quick tips to get more privacy online. It’s good stuff, but the threat is that it all becomes a bit to niche.

Data privacy isn’t just a privacy advocate’s thing, it’s any activist’s concern. Most targeted spying isn’t aimed at people banging on about privacy, but at environmental activists, political activists, human rights activists and people stomping around for actual change. Good people, but I’ve noticed most of them practice awful security. It’s like handing over tactics without a battle. Even if you think your adversary will get it in the end, you at least should be making them earn it.

Some protests look like this:

(April 1, 2009 - Source:
(April 1, 2009 – Source:

The protest against governments scooping up your private messages looks like this, though:


Generally, I work with some of these tools as part of training and helping journalist and various nice NGO types use them to keep from being tracked, arrested and worse. Dissidents need to be using them as well. Some are. A lot aren’t. There’s this idea that “they’re going to watch me anyway.” This is, of course, why they should be taking the situation more seriously. The use of Firechat in Hong Kong was inspired. Firechat + encryption is more inspiring.

The same methods that can help that important work stay secure are also the main protest march routes.  What are we supposed to be protesting? Pop-up ad creator Ethan Zuckerman offers a good, recent explanation/admission:

“I have come to believe that advertising is the original sin of the web. The fallen state of our Internet is a direct, if unintentional, consequence of choosing advertising as the default model to support online content and services. Through successive rounds of innovation and investor storytime, we’ve trained Internet users to expect that everything they say and do online will be aggregated into profiles (which they cannot review, challenge, or change) that shape both what ads and what content they see. …  Users have been so well trained to expect surveillance that even when widespread, clandestine government surveillance was revealed by a whistleblower, there has been little organized, public demand for reform and change. ” — Ethan Zuckerman, The Atlantic

That effects you, even it it’s not your exact cause de jour.

On the street, protest routes look like this:

Here’s a well documented route, approved by police and heavily monitored, but hey, you got your message across, right? Right?

On the internet, the protest route looks like this:

So randomized that the police, government and you don't know how you got from A to B, and (if used right), only you know what B you got to.
So randomized that the police, government and you don’t know how you got from A to B, and (if used right), only you know what B you got to (but I’m not sure what Jane’s up to in this chart, though. Tetris?).

There’s another crucial difference here. On the street, people are politely requesting change when demonstrating along a well-marked route. They’re demanding change when they protest and occupy spaces.

But when it comes to anonymity or privacy rights, you’re already living the change by simply using it. You don’t tell someone else to stop monitoring you, you actually make it more difficult for them to do so.

Top photo is from this Guardian story about how Turkish protesters combined protest and crypto.