A surveillance pandemic? A community listening session on emergent post-COVID trends, from contact tracking to special powers

This topic is now closed. Find the writeup and subsequent discussion here.

Several of the smartest people we know in the Net activism space are worried. SARS-CoV-2 will be defeated, at some point; but it might leave behind new limitations to civil liberties and privacy. We have had two decades of consumer surveillance; and at least one decade of the inter-governmental panopticon we learned about through Edward Snowden’s revelations. The right to privacy online has been tenuous at best for quite a while, but that encroachment has not, so far, directly curtailed basic civil liberties.

Until COVID-19 hit. Suddenly everyone is coding mobile apps to track who has been in touch with whom. There are reports of dodgy companies like Palantir and Clearview AI collaborating with major governments on digital tools to monitor and contain contagion. And, in the rush to beat the pandemic: a formidable social pressure is mounting to “just do what we are told”. At the same time, many activists are trying to mount less invasive solutions; disposable identities that track one’s health status during an outbreak and then are destroyed; or opt-in digital commons.

Which freedoms are we really risking? What do we stand to gain in return?

We organize a community listening session on Thursday April 9th at 17.00 CEST, in the context of IOT Day.

Format & practical information

  • Full information sheet: Information Sheet_Surveillance Pandemic - Google Docs

  • A Zoom meeting (ironic, I know – we are looking into alternatives, but we have no time to properly test before qe go live). Click here to join the meeting starting 16.45 on Thursday April 9th.

  • Not a panel, an open, moderated discussion. A moderator will give the floor to people who want to contribute something. Some have already volunteered (see list below, updated continuously). If you want to share your point of view, use the call’s chat to let us know, and the moderator will give you the floor. If you have a question to ask the speaker, ask it in the chat (better) or let us know you want to ask a question. Questions are taken before we move on to the next speaker.

  • We commit to doing a proper writeup of the result (aka “documentation, or it didn’t happen”). Edgeryders also deploys its team of ethnographers for participant observation and note-taking.

  • Everyone welcome. Below there is a list of the people who have agreed to show up. If you are coming too, we are happy to put you on it. If you prefer not to be on the list, that’s OK too.

  • Please note we aim to publish the content of the conversation as public knowledge, available to activists and scholars. However, this will happen through writeups by people in Edgeryders. We will not record the call, and event the writeups will not mention any names.

Confirmed at the time of writing – check back for updates

This is a list of people who confirmed their attendance, not a panel. The listening session is simply a moderated discussion. You do not need to be on the list to attend, just click on the link. Once in, if you have something to say, ask for the floor and a moderator will give it to you.

@amelia @CCS @MariaEuler I am going to need you here… please save the date.
Also ping @katjab @RobvanKranenburg

How is this all financed?

This event is part of the NGI Forward project Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, launched by the European Commission in the autumn of 2016. It has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 825652 from 2019-2021. You can learn more about the initiative and our involvement in it at https://ngi.edgeryders.eu

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Sounds great! Can you add it here

Then I can. Start promoting it, Rob

Great and all, but Zoom? Really? I’m out, that being the case. I am seeing too much of this, from Naomi Klein and the Intercept putting everything out on YouTube to The Guardian talking about modern masculinity on the same platform which has done as much as any to lead to toxic masculinity… Please consider Jitsi Meet. It is very easy to use, I have seen it used for conferences, and, though self-hosting is the most secure option, it is, unlike Zoom (who lied about it) end-to-end encrypted.

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I respect your position. We are already testing several solutions, including Jitsi, Big Blue Button and https://now.edgeryders.eu. But tests will not be exhaustive in a week. So, we have chosen the devil we know and the minimization of the time spent asking each other “can you hear me? can you seee me? wait, I am going to leave the meeting then get back in” and so on. Our apologies.

In this case, the Zoom issues are mitigated by the fact that we want to produce publicly available content. The questionable ethics of the Zoom company remains, and make no mistake: they have lost this customer, they just don’t know it yet.

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We know :pensive:

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@pbihr are you interested in being a part of this?

Thanks for your response. I understand where you’re coming from, I have just seen a few things flagged up in the last week and I am reacting to a wider tendency to overlook free / open source solutions which have less in the way of VC funding, PR, etc. etc. Still and all, apparently they are looking in to it (this just one of a number of posts on this theme).

I feel you. We have been trying to go stackless for over a year. It is surprisingly difficult and frustrating. This platform is FOSS, and so are our company chat (Matrix) and minimalistic project management tool (Dynalist). But we are still using big G for file storage, and proprietary accounting software, and, yes, Zoom. :frowning:

I looked just now at Zoom’s website to see if they have a response to the large amount of bad press resulting from revelations arising from that lawsuit. They say nothing about the problem. I think that is irresponsible of them to not make a privacy declaration at this time.

Glancing over, I can see you are on it. Far more so than many other institutions I’ve seen trying to do something in this area… Thanks.

Haven’t looked over EdgeRiders for years now… You’ve gone further than most so fair play. It is very hard and easy to wind up marginalising oneself just for making an effort beyond that people exploring the political / social side first are able to go. Still, this platform is better than most so I’m thinking I’ll come back here and there…


Please do!

Thank you for the initiative! I will join the call later, as I am a bit packed this afternoon. Somehow this pandemic has increased rather than slowed down my workload. kind regards, ccs

right??? How did this happen :roll_eyes:


Thanks, recognition means a lot. As I said, we are quite frustrated with how slowly it goes. I have been begging the EU to fund an open source Google Drive (at the time it was still called Google Docs) since 2008. And here we are now. :frowning: Hopefully we will pull through, together… and here we must acknowledge the great work of the Discourse people. We were always open source with our main platform, but it used to be a horribly clunky Drupal Commons affair with seven layers of duct tape keeping it together. Migration to modern, well designed FOSS was the best thing that ever happened to us!


Corinne, I am counting on you! But the call is next week, on Thursday.

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@ccs I took the liberty of adding your name to the list of “participants who are doing work in this space” (as opposed to participants like me, who have no domain expertise but want to understand better how much we should be worried, and what to do). Let me know if that’s OK, and what affiliation (if any) I should use.

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of course - Oxford Internet Institute :slight_smile:

Is it possible to join the call even with no domain expertise, just as interested individuals?

@alberto to save everyone time maybe re-use @ccs and @RobvanKranenburg bios from the festival?

Corinne Cath-Speth

Cultural anthropologist of technology governance, Oxford Internet Institute
Corinne Cath-Speth is a PhD student at the Oxford Internet Institute and Alan Turing Institute for AI. She is a cultural anthropologist studying Internet governance culture. Her PhD presents an ethnographic case study of human rights NGOs working in Internet governance organizations. She is interested in the Internet companies most people have never heard of but use every day and the human rights organizations

Rob Van Kranenburg

Director, Resonance Design

Rob van Kranenburg, is the Founder of Council_IoT and #iotday; co-founder of Bricolabs.

He has authored The Internet of Things: A Critique of ambient technology and the all-seeing network of RFID (2007); co-author of Situated Technologies Pamphlets 8. He is Director of Resonance Design BV, partnering in the NGI CSA Strategy NGI Forward.