Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Crowdsourcing civil protest app requirements

I’m building a privacy-based platform for managing access to social networks.  It’s designed from the ground up to put privacy first and to be a platform on top of which privacy-centric applications can be built.

I can’t give away too many details about the platform yet, but I want to start building the first application alongside the platform.  That first application will be a tool for organising and conducting civil protests while protecting the privacy of those involved.  It’s intended particularly for locations where civil protest is especially dangerous, but I want it to be as tweakable as possible for different environments and requirements.  Features will include:

  • Invitation: advertising protests; distributing locations, plans, goals, guidelines, supporting material etc. This might require anonymity, secure access, the laying down of false trails and other means to protect sensitive information and the identity of organisers and participants.  In some environments, it is dangerous to distribute certain materials or to arrange for protestors to congregate.  I want people to be able to get the message out about acts of civil disobedience in as safe a way as possible for all concerned.
  • Meeting and greeting: In environments where civil protest is likely to be dealt with harshly by authorities, it’s difficult to act unless you know that plenty of others are on your side.  If the tool could show those within the planned protest area how many other potential protestors are present, along with an evaluation of the other protestors’ bona fides (perhaps they are all invented by an oppressive regime to bring actual protestors into the open) then individuals could have more confidence that they are acting as a group. Anonymity must be preserved, as must secrecy about each individual’s connection to the protest.  Protestors might not want authorities to know that they are interested in a potentially dangerous act of civil disobedience.
  • Social networking: protestors who meet at an event might wish to share contact information, messages, alerts, materials etc.  In many cases, this must happen anonymously or at least pseudonymously.  Protected forums in which people can receive communications – even personal communications – without any party revealing their identities to the others are essential.  People must be able to reveal as much or as little as they like about themselves, their roles in protests, their beliefs and interests and yet still – if they wish it – be contactable.   Decisions to share contact information might be made on the spur of the moment in a chaotic and potentially dangerous situation.  Protestors must be able to easily and rapidly tailor their profiles in realtime, understand the consequences of their decisions and – as far as possible – retract them if they change their minds later.
  • Coordination: it might be that an act of civil protest requires that a group assemble from different locations or that a crowd not be perceived as a crowd until the protest begins.  With the most careful planning in the world, tactics change as the situation develops and decisions must be made in realtime.  Protestors need to be able to decide whether or not to act on instructions or carry on doing whatever they’re already doing.  This will depend on how much they trust the coordination messages which might well be anonymous.  Mileage – and danger – will vary.

I have some other ideas.  I want to incorporate throwaway wearable technologies such as NFC tags to aid the sharing of anonymous contact details.  I want to think about how information about individuals and events should decay over time.

And above all, I do not advocate and will always strongly resist violence of any kind at any civil protest, no matter how otherwise disobedient.

So here’s the crowdsourcing part. Any ideas will be considered and attributed.  Any technological, practical or legal concerns are especially welcome and will most certainly be noted.  Any offers of help, financially and especially in-kind will be gratefully accepted.  I’m not being paid to develop this application and I can’t see myself making much if any money from it in the future.  Any good programmers, web designers or people with lots of money can and will be put to good use on an interesting project. And anyone with good ideas can contribute at any stage.

If you’d like to be involved somehow, let me know.  At the moment I’m especially interested in requirements.  What would this tool have to do to make your civil protest safer and more effective?

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