Diversity | Inclusion | Technology

Surveillance, Sexuality, & Gender

soundbeam installation

How is corporate surveillance reconstructing gendered identities? How can we take more control?

Practical and discussion workshops 7 March and 22 March for activists, artists, designers, makers — with Furtherfield and Autonomous Tech Fetish. Visit our Meetup Group to join.


Sex and Security – Workshops, Performances and Discussions

tactical tech gender institute
Tactical Tech Popup Gender Institute

We’ve been talking about these issues and collaborating with Autonomous Tech Fetish and Furtherfield Commons and Tactical Tech Collective Gender & Tech Popup Institute. We want to take these discussions forward together into a more focused exploration of the issues around sexuality, gender and surveillance and into small, practical actions to begin to secure ourselves but also develop a better understanding and a more collectivised civil response.

In order to participate in a discussion (as well as defend ourselves a little bit) we need some practical insights into the basics of how tracking, surveillance and profiling techniques work. Women are less likely to get the opportunity to explore how tech works in a playful way so we’re starting with a series of workshops using simple graphical tools to explore how we’re being tracked and some easy, personalised, protective actions you can start to take yourself. The first of the Sex and Surveillance practical workshops will be on 7 March, more info on our Meetup group. Our second March event will be more about using play, performance and discussion to explore the issues and begin a discussion. The workshop will be at Furtherfield Commons on 22 March. You can join the event on Meetup now to save a place, more info on speakers, workshops and performances will be coming soon.

technology & gender workshop at furtherfield
ATF workshop @Fossbox event @Furtherfield Commons

If you’re hazy about how digital mass surveillance works and what you can do, you’ll get most out of it by attending both workshops. If you already know about the tech side, you might want to help out at the practical workshop! Over 2015 we will be developing this theme with more workshops and events. Contact us if you’d like more information or would like to propose a workshop, topic, talk, performance or just join in and help out.

Featured image [top] is from Charles Céleste Hutchins’ sonic installation ‘Soundbeam’ created for this event

Can we really make a difference?

The issues are hard to wrap your head around and keeping your private life private requires the commitment of a little effort — it can interrupt the manicured flow of our digital ‘user experience’. You might not really want to know what happens after you push the little button that says ‘send’ but staying safe online in 2015 and beyond is going to get a little bit more challenging. Not caring is going to be an increasingly risky option.

Technical solutions are needed, and a small army of ‘infosec’ practitioners, strong encryption, and hardened systems. However, this won’t be enough because USA, UK and EU governments are more concerned with corporate profits and the security of their own power than with the safety and wellbeing of civil society. Alongside our own private actions to secure our own data and the efforts of civil-society-hackers, non-profits and NGOs striving to keep us informed, skilled, and safe, we also need an aware and empowered civil society response. But is ‘smart’ economy an all-round bad idea purely to be defended against or is there the possibility of ‘smart’ technology and smart systems co-designed by and for women themselves and a respectful way to manage ‘big data’?

The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is heralded as a quantum leap in economy, society, culture and government — yet most people outside of the tech and creative industries struggle to get their heads around what this really means. A number of recent scandals involving ‘smart’ devices as well as Snowden’s revelations have highlighted the huge and slightly scary security and privacy issues at the heart of our brave, new, cyberworld. ICO and Offcom are acutely aware that this pervasive surveillance is making a mockery of current EU/UK privacy legislation which urgently needs an overhaul. Policy, however, prioritises rapid development of IoT over protecting sensitive data calling for ‘transparency’ rather than restriction of how our data can be collected and used. Meanwhile, the corporate and governmental chorus that law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about from pervasive surveillance is wearing thinner every day.

As the digital domain begins to bleed into our ordinary, physical surroundings, the government is telling us that we don’t need privacy and even wants to outlaw the secure encryption which can protect our private life from being used for invasive profiling, ending up on public websites and social media, or on sale in the data black market. Cameron has stated that there should be absolutely no communication or data which the government can’t read. Is it really OK for corporations to compile and sell personal profiles so intimate that they know more about us than our loved ones do? Does the government really have a right to gather and keep our every private thought to be used in profiling if we ever do fall foul of the state for whatever reason? There is already a discussion of the ‘militarisation’ of social science and ‘predictive policing‘ – we’ve seen in the past which vulnerable groups are most likely to be targeted for profiling. What about the constant monitoring and manipulation of movement around cities. What if our government takes even more steps to the right whilst conditions get harder for most of the population. What if there were mass protests? What if a future right-wing government outside the EU decided to outlaw LGBTQ? What might these ubiquitous personal dossiers and pervasive control of urban space be used for then? Are we sleepwalking into a society where everyone is always-already a criminal and non-conformity or protest is no longer an option?

How is this a gender issue?

These developments are going to affect everyone but there are many issues around online security which will have particular resonances for women and queers and may affect us in very specific ways. There has been a lot of discussion and press about gender-trolling, ‘revenge porn‘, ‘gamergate‘ and Wikipedia, the ‘quantified self‘, FB real-names policy and binary sex dropdown lists in databases — to name but a few. However, there is not very much discussion about how these issues all fit together and what the overall impact of this production of digitised social space, hyper-self-awareness, and networked sexuality might be for women, queers, and marginalised groups. How does corporate and government surveillance and profiling affect our sense of self, our personal and public spaces, and our freedom to speak and organise with other women and queers? Where is the line between design which facilitates us and design which manipulates us?