Central America Video Surveillance: learnings about public video surveillance for other countries in the region

By IPANDETEC

“If it’s not for your project, I don’t know”. This was the statement of one of the participants in the Central America Video Surveillance project. For the first time, the region has a project planned and executed by a one hundred percent Central American organization and staff on public video surveillance systems.

The project identified video surveillance technology systems in public spaces in nine cities in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama, through information requests to these countries authorities. The information provided by the authorities was verified with government purchasing sites, media outlets, and company registries. This collected information was published through social networks and research files in the project website.

The methodology allowed us to find that only Costa Rica and Panama maintain data protection and image rights laws, while Guatemala does not. None of the countries investigated has regulated public or private video surveillance through national laws, but are managed with internal manuals or mayoral decrees. Within the investigation, it was found the participation in bidding systems from companies internationally denounced for espionage, the little citizen participation in the process, among other details.

The second part of the project was knowing the beneficiaries’ opinion from these public security projects implementation. More than 25 interviews were conducted with leaders from the nine Central American cities where the project was developed. At the same time, neighbors met in focus groups called “Citizen Dialogues” where it was possible to understand their knowledge about the system, their opinion about privacy, and citizen participation by project. Both the interviews and the citizen dialogues were recorded for later transcription, respecting the participants’ privacy.

From this phase, we were able to notice the little knowledge about the video surveillance systems that the inhabitants of the nine cities maintained in general. Derived from the lack of citizen participation and government transparency on this issue, very few people stated having participated in any of the systems in citizen participation mechanisms phases, while another great majority did not know with certainty the entity that administers the system. In terms of privacy we found diverse comments, some from the people interviewed, prefer to sacrifice their right to privacy in exchange for security and community peace, while others expressed concern about the system’s intrusion.

The third part of the project focused on generating spaces for dialogue with authorities and business associations in search of generating conversations and synergies that allow actions for the inhabitants’ human rights benefit.

Finally, the project team conducted a deep study that allows understanding various topics found in the video surveillance systems region: the use of video surveillance systems as a diplomatic tool, facial recognition, the lack of citizen participation, among other video surveillance aspects in the region.

Learned lessons

During the project course, the research team was able to obtain learning to be applied in future project phases and in other investigations.; firstly, the importance of involving the communities and beneficiaries. The information’s wealth from the population, allowed the research team to present the project’s results as well as questioning the authorities based on citizen participation and the inhabitants’ opinion. On the other hand, this citizens’ participation in the study development allowed the project to focus on certain research areas such as citizen participation in the geographical cameras installation or the crime transfer to non-video-monitored places.

On the other hand, the initial unwillingness from the authorities to learn about the project, despite their responsibilities to the public, only demonstrates the disconnection that certain government sectors maintain with those who elected them. This lack of will ends in lack of citizen participation, lack of accountability, opacity, little transparency and rights violation.

Achievements

To date, meetings have been held with three municipalities, a ministry in charge of security, and three business associations. In these meetings, the need to initiate multisectoral conversations with a human rights approach was emphasized. As a result, one of the institutions was in favor of a future meeting with the legal public institution team and the investigative team to analyze the discussion of a video surveillance regulation while one of the Costa Rica municipalities indicated that they will immediately initiate a reform on their internal manuals with a humanistic approach after the meeting held with the research team.

On the other hand, the public entity in charge of one of the video surveillance systems in Panama expressed the desire to learn more about the subject in future project phases in addition to leaving open the possibility of initiating joint actions for a video surveillance regulation with a human rights approach.

The project’s future

The project, which has been widely publicized through social networks, has seen its main objective fulfilled; has succeeded in educating and raising awareness among target populations about the video surveillance use. However, the expansion of research and awareness to other cities in the countries investigated, or including new countries in Central America, opens up infinity opportunities. This project lays the first stone to build multisectoral actions aimed at discussing new and existing regulations, initiate actions on strategic litigation and legislative influence that protect citizens, openness and greater systems transparency, and even citizen audit mechanisms in them.

The local voices behind global digital policy debates

By Aguayo Association and InternetBolivia.org Foundation

How digitization affects rural communities in Bolivia and their rights? What needs do Bolivians who live in medium and small municipalities have in relation to digitization and their rights exercise? Are global debates on digital policies present in local realities? How can rural municipalities in Bolivia be supported to be included in these debates?

These questions were the triggers to reach places like Coroico, a municipality three hours from the Bolivian Government seat; Ayo Ayo, a town on the high plateau of the Andes, and other remote places. All of them share global problems such as personal data extractivism processes, cyber fraud and digital violence, but unlike urban centers and northern countries they are not taken into account in the global discussion on digitization.

Since 2020, from the InternetBolivia.org Foundation and the Aguayo Association we have taken on the challenge of taking the debates on Internet access and personal data protection to municipalities far from urban centers in a double effort: going from the global to Bolivia and from urban to rural.

The COVID-19 quarantine context brought the digitization challenge to more places and surprised municipalities without strategies, regulations, public debate, or tools to face it. This led to increasing these territories populations vulnerabilities when using the Internet.

We did not want this tour to be done anyway, we decided that it should be local, feminist, and intercultural. We wanted it to be with diverse voices. Thus, we include women as fundamental actors in these processes, producers’ federations and young people.

This way, we faced two projects: the first called: “ Multicultural digital rights legislative frameworks for indigenous communities and municipalities in Bolivia: comparative analysis and legal incidence”, in which a diagnosis was made on Internet access and personal data protection in five Bolivia municipalities and an Indigenous Autonomy (Charagua Iyambae).

On this basis, two municipal laws models were designed:

  • Digital Inclusion Law, so that municipalities can project not only Internet access solutions, but also digital literacy programs, which until now have not been assumed by these entities.
  • Personal data protection law so that the municipalities guarantee this right in the procedures they manage. Although there is no national law, it is not an impediment for municipalities to assume this role.

Likewise, communication and training campaigns were implemented in three municipalities: Coroico, Copacabana and Villamontes.

In this process we had a first approach with the Coroico Municipal Government, its Municipal Council and social actors that influence local policies. Why? Because one of our objectives is elaborating laws that guarantee and protect the citizens’ digital rights. In this way, political will was generated to deliberate on a Municipal Law for the Digitization and Personal Data Protection in Coroico, which, if approved, would be the first of its kind in Bolivia, and even in Latin America and globally. In this link you will find the work done so far.

Our work did not end there, and in 2021 we have started the second project, “Women for digital rights and technologies in Bolivia” with the aim of strengthening the women incidence capacity in public policies on digital rights.

After a capacity-building process aimed at grassroots women, they designed public policy proposals with an impact in their direct context and the collective decalogue construction in which they expressed their concerns about the digital rights violations that they experience in their daily lives. Here you will be able to learn about seven grant proposals from the seventy received whose objectives are to influence their direct contexts in search of strengthening their digital rights and the voices from women’s who worked throughout the project.

In the various visits to the municipalities, naturally a group of young people, who were already working with the Aguayo Association in artivism and mass communication in other projects, began to accompany us. Art is a powerful channel to transmit social change messages and reach people who are not possible in traditional ways.

It was time to be creative! We supported the production of a play by the Coroico Art group made up of teenagers and young people from Coroico about their reality in digital rights, the risks of surfing the Internet without information, what virtual education had meant in the pandemic, and the importance of taking care of personal information. So important was the impact of this work that it became the most important cultural event in the first 2022 semester in the municipality, they took it to several communities and to the city La Paz in different events.

The young people from Coroico also put their enthusiasm into their weekly program on the local radio, which has a great reach in the area with interviews, jingles and spots on digital violence and personal data protection. Both for the play and for the radio, we did a very important job strengthening capacities so that they had inputs to carry out both proposals.

Throughout this process, doors were opened with the Coroico’s Mayor, the councilors, and the male and female producers’ federations where we were able to sow the debate on digital rights seeds that we want them to be able to reap and replicate in neighboring communities. Now several actors are ready to speak in national and local spaces.

Human rights in digital environments are a need for all people, including those who live in rural municipalities. It is necessary to integrate local views, territorialities, feelings and knowledge in national and global debates that do not always take this diversity into account.

Building bridges takes time, is tiring and expensive – but it pays off; digital rights + consumer protection

By Idec – Brazilian Institute for Consumer Protection

Building bridges takes time, is tiring and expensive – but it pays off. This is one of the many learnings that we will carry with Idec after the almost two years project “Building bridges between the digital rights and consumer protection communities in Latin America”.

The idea for this initiative was born out of our strong involvement in these two communities – digital rights and consumer protection. This is because, over time, we realized that they are two communities with many strengths, but that still do not dialogue with each other. On the one hand, we have the digital rights community, which is very aware to the process of public and private services digitization and has a well-established regional articulation. On the other hand, we have consumer protection organizations, who have been working since the 80s and 90s, acting in different ways, whether in political incidence, awareness campaigns or strategic litigation, but who, for now, know little about these new privacy and data protection issues.

Building bridges during the pandemic

Strengthening ties between groups that are not alike is an even more complicated task in a pandemic period, as was our case. In this way, we had to give up a large face-to-face and Latin American meeting, which forced us to look for viable alternatives for this bridge-building challenge.

So we started our project with a series of remote interviews with members of digital rights organizations and with representatives from consumer protection organizations from twelve countries in the region, from Mexico to Chile. From this initial stage, it was possible to collect a considerable amount of data and information that helped us drawing an important profile from both communities.

A quick comparative analysis between the two communities showed us a large generational gap and a significant financial disparity. For example, the consumer protection community leadership is predominantly formed by women, who had founded the organizations and have worked in them for decades, where they also helped in the national consumer protection laws enactment – as was Idec’s case. Meanwhile, in the digital rights community, there are younger members who have also founded their own organizations, in which they have been working for less than a decade.

In our conversations with activists from both communities, we decided to investigate how entities relate to debates on technology and society. This was an important step to pay attention to the complex regulatory scenario in the region, in which there are countries where data protection is already a fundamental right, while others do not even have rules to deal with data processing. Other topics such as competition law and telecommunications services also emerged in the conversations as topics of interest to organizations, since discussions about massive data processing are no longer a mere matter of data protection and privacy.

Since one of the initial objectives of our project was also to map national regulatory frameworks and paradigmatic cases, we built, within the project scope, an interactive map containing information on authorities and legislation in many countries on data protection, consumer protection, competition law and telecommunications law. We believe that this legal atlas, combined with a library of paradigmatic local cases, will be a privileged space that will provide an important knowledge dissemination about the interface between consumer law and data protection in Latin America.

Rolling up the sleeves 

In addition to this huge stage of data collection, we also act, in practice, with political incidence actions. Having already presented our project to organizations in the region, as well as talking in detail with them, we had the first articulation opportunity when WhatsApp, the most used messaging application in Latin America and in the world, started sending out notifications in early January 2021 about changes that would be implemented to its terms of use and privacy policy. In this sense, several organizations from both communities signed a  public manifestation addressed to Facebook and local authorities requesting a series of measures regarding WhatsApp’s new privacy policy so that users had their rights respected.

At the end of the same year, we organized an event to establish a dialogue between Latin American civil society, in which we debated a data protection perspective that articulated the experiences, the work and expertise from digital rights communities and consumer protection in Latin America. In this space, we had the opportunity to address the  biometric technologies spread and its effects on consumers and, also discuss the  personal data protection from telecommunications services users.

We are not alone 

Other interesting moments from the project articulation emerged when we discovered similar initiatives around the world. We noticed that other organizations were also aware of the fact that more robust collaboration between different groups is urgently needed to deal with the advancement of public and private services that violate citizens’ right to data protection.

For example, in 2021, The Engine Room conducted a  research project exploring cross-sector collaboration between social justice communities and digital rights communities during the pandemic. We made a series of contributions to this final research report , sharing experiences and lessons learned that we had throughout our own project. We also strengthen ties with Internews’ “Advocating for Data Accountability, Protection, and Transparency” (ADAPT) project, what helped us focus on challenges faced by Latin American regulators, in addition to providing us spaces to discuss how activists can work not only with data protection authorities, but also with competition and consumer rights regulatory bodies.

Let’s go together

After all these stimulating actions, conversations and partnerships, we realize that there is still a long way to go. Financial, generational and technical asymmetries are still striking and hinder ongoing involvement between communities. After the painful first stage of the pandemic, both digital rights and consumer rights are areas that are receiving more attention from citizens due to the public services, work and education migration to the digital environment., therefore, we are confident that these first steps taken in our project will be essential for building more solid and lasting bridges, which will lead to concrete and successful actions, as it is already happening.

Active listening as a tool against online gender violence

By Cultivando Género

In 2015, the Cyberbullying Module (MOCIBA), a survey conducted by the Statistics and Geography National Institute (INEGI) in Mexico, revealed that 32% of the connected population aged 12 and over in Aguascalientes had experienced cyberbullying. This positioned the State with one of the highest incidences of this kind of violence at the national level. Six years later in the results of MOCIBA 2021 Aguascalientes reduces the percentage and reports that 22.2% of the population has experienced a digital violence situation.

In 2020, in Cultivating Gender we started the digital violence accompanying and comprehensive attention project in Aguascalientes, Mexico, with Indela support. The project was a result of listening and identifying the needs of each sector which meant a learning process in which we had to keep up-to-date because in classrooms, teenagers ask about a variety of topics and expect an answer. But we also understood that it is worth saying “I don’t know”, and assuming that it is a knowledge exchange, in which they can explain us about their experiences in games or platforms that perhaps initially we did not have on the radar as platforms in which digital violence is also present. So active listening has been our great tool for this project development, through which new horizons continue to be opened.

On more than one occasion our hearts were crushed when they told us that they did not believe that the right to access the Internet existed. Because there are haters, people who annoy, insult, doxxean, or there are those who pretend to be someone 12 years old, when in reality they are a “a grown up” man (at the point in which we had to talk about grooming).

We listened to their stories, the colleague’s neighbor who had asked for the pack (set of photos or videos), the friend’s cousin who ran from school because they “burned” her (exposing intimate photos or videos without her consent to damage her reputation), who changed groups because they made stickers or memes, who shared the nudes (without authorization) in the WhatsApp group.

We walk hand in hand with teenagers, in the tour we include mothers, fathers, teachers and institutions because in prevention and care measures in a school context all authority figures are strategic to guarantee the protection of physical and emotional integrity of childhood and adolescence, considering that each of these figures requires information and the development of specific skills to provide support. Digital violence is a systemic problem, which requires that all actors act in a coordinated manner with a common language, understanding the causes and conditions that cause digital violence. The participation of these figures has allowed us to start a dialogue process from a rights and gender perspective approach. Putting cases of digital violence as the axis of learning, which highlighted some factors that are strategic and emerging to address, such as: the digital literacy gap, access to technology and the Internet, gender stereotypes, adult-centrism and authoritarianism as attitudes that keep adults from understanding the importance of their role in the digital violence prevention and care.

After several months we paused to observe what we had developed and implemented, and the new findings that this stage has left us, to undertake new incidence lines. For example, gender stereotypes have increased and are accentuated in the teenagers’ narratives as they go through the school grades, and from these mandates they limit their resources to face problems and/or ask for help which can have a strong impact on their physical and emotional integrity.

The classrooms meetings allowed us to see that teenagers identify the importance of having secure passwords and characteristics they should have, that they should not open content of dubious origin, but the attitude of underestimating the impact that these actions have out of digital on their lives persists, because on many occasions the sense of belonging weighs more, looking good with their friends, and going with fashion, at the cost of protecting themselves and their safety, due, among other factors, to the development lack on socio-emotional skills that would allow them to exercise their decision-making with greater autonomy.

The incidence and close work with public institutions has been very important, because it has allowed us to identify the lack of protocols, mechanisms and technical and operational tools for the legal framework execution around digital violence, an aspect that must also be addressed to provide information and accompaniment within a rights framework.

Making visible the characteristics and access quality to information technologies a teenager’s right, allows us to approach a structural problem in terms of information access, communication, broadband, since when these conditions are not reached and the Internet use deepens existing inequalities.

During this two years project, we sought to sensitize the population both in public spaces and on communication platforms, by a communication campaign through offline interventions such as a mural on public roads, stickers distribution in schools and even in the digital by flooding social networks with the campaign #FrenaElHate. In Aguascalientes we trained dozens of people from the public service in different areas, institutions and profiles. We talked to mothers, fathers, and teachers, we visited many schools, we listened to teenagers. We positioned the topic, attending forums, panels, conversations, podcasts… Everything we have learned, we gathered together in four incredible guides that we put at your disposal!!

We recognize and appreciate the trust and committed effort from teachers, psychologists, social workers, and authorities from different public agencies that allowed us to work in their educational spaces and government offices and that today use the Guides and recommendations that we have developed as part of the action that seeks to transform educational spaces into safe coexistence areas. Thank you for trusting in our work and opening your community doors to continue reaching many more schools.

The evidence that outlines the future of digital rights in Latin America

Since Indela was born to strengthen the ecosystem of digital rights, in these three years it has supported 20 projects, from 22 organizations, in 10 countries throughout Latin America. The needs in the region were changing with the pandemic, and Indela was adapting in an agile and flexible way to the current emergencies. The main areas of impact that emerged, and that were prioritized to be addressed, have been on subjects such as the reduction of online gender violence, protection of personal data, privacy, and analysis of mass surveillance technologies, among others.

During 2021, an external evaluation team began an analysis process to deepen Indela’s strategic vision, the support it provides and collaboration between peers. This external evaluation included the implementation of spaces for the collective exchange of reflections between organizations and the Indela coordinating team, which made it possible to identify the main future opportunities and challenges facing the digital rights ecosystem in Latin America.

Future opportunities

Three large areas of opportunity were identified to continue strengthening the protection of digital rights in laws and public policies in the region.

  1. New forms of connectivity and participation: The pandemic, beyond confirming these shortcomings and, in the face of a growing, accelerated, and in many cases forced digitalization, caused emerging social groups, especially young people, to increasingly demand their rights in relation to connectivity and digital participation. The Internet is a space for the exercise of rights in which all voices must be present.
  2. New concepts: There is a trend about the possibility of new human rights concepts, such as the right to disconnect and the right to privacy. These new configurations also go hand in hand with new demands for the recognition and protection of digital rights in different countries of the region, such as the conversation about the right to disconnect. In addition, there is an increase in the development of more open and transparent technologies, which could have a positive impact on democracies in Latin America.
  3. New actors: There is a need to include actors in the discussions on digital rights in the region, such as traditional civil society organizations, research centers and regional bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Expanding the participation of these sectors allows collaboration for the defense and protection of digital rights in Latin America, as well as the development of new international standards for the protection of these rights at the Inter-American Human Rights System level.

The challenges

The increase of some threats, and other new ones, that cross digital rights and the organizations that defend them were identified.

  1. New inequalities: The digital exclusion is increasing existing social inequalities in the region and in the world, in some cases limiting access to and use of digital technologies, as well as participation and the exercise of rights in the digital environment. For example, school dropout during the pandemic due to lack of Internet access, where access to education for children and adolescents is violated. These new digital inequalities are more evident for women, youth, indigenous communities and vulnerable groups.
  2. Growth of anti-rights movements: Although several countries have made progress in protecting the women, LGTBIQ+ people and indigenous communities’ rights, there is an increase in the anti-rights movement in the region. This translates into rights violations in the digital environment, as well as the increase in hate speech and digital violence against traditionally excluded groups.
  3. Laws and policies in the process of becoming outdated: On the other hand, the regulations on digital rights in the region are not yet sufficient for their protection. Laws and public policies are not responding to the growing problems, this is due, on occasions, to the lack of capacity of some governments and public actors to understand the impact of digital technologies in the exercise of rights or to the lobby of the major technology companies, the Big Tech to stop some regulation. Faced with the absence of protective regulation, the States continue implementing massive surveillance systems that affect the citizens’ rights, without transparency or accountability. The implementation of these technologies, on the one hand, violates the rights to privacy and freedom of expression online, and prevents the free exercise of other rights such as citizen organization and mobilization.

These main opportunities and challenges that the digital rights ecosystem in Latin America is going through allow us to jointly identify a very visible future, and how to strengthen organizations and the defense of these rights. It is important to deepen into the main thematic axes to guarantee digital rights in laws and whole public policies, provide opportunities to build dialogue and articulate regional work with new actors, support organizations to strengthen their impact and capacities within this coming scenario, and align existing funding in the region to give organizations the opportunity to build new collective futures.

The emerging process of protecting personal data in Latin America

Indela, since its first call in 2019, has accompanied various organizations that work on the personal data protection in Latin America. As part of an external evaluation carried out over these three years of work, a case study was developed on the personal data area in particular, to analyze in depth the strategies and the impact of the processes led by two of the allied organizations; IDEC and TEDIC.

Guarantee personal data protection is guarantee the exercise of other human rights, such as privacy and freedom of expression. Providing tools and mechanisms that guarantee the confidentiality, security and personal data control is a need that is growing by leaps and bounds, especially for groups in situations of vulnerability.

In certain Latin American countries these rights are regulated, in some even with more progressive regulations as in the case of Brazil. However, there are still several countries that do not have specific laws on personal data, such as Paraguay.

In this context, IDEC from Brazil and TEDIC from Paraguay have developed comprehensive strategies with three main lines of action:

  1. Coordinated mobilization to achieve high-impact results in the fight for personal data protection, as a long-term commitment.
  2. Articulation with different actors, that allows collaboration and collective construction of projects with a multisectoral perspective.
  3. Collaboration among the community of consumer protection, and the community of digital rights for the construction of a regional agenda.

Achievements and impact

The projects led by these two organizations have generated impact at the national and regional levels. On the one hand, the multisector articulation for the co-construction of a draft personal data law with a human rights perspective in Paraguay, TEDIC, together with Personal Data Coalition, coordinated a dialogue process with strategic actors for the advancement in the personal data protection that complies with international standards.

In addition, with the support of the Faculty of Law of the National University of Asunción, it leads a process of strengthening the capacities of the new generation of professionals in digital rights issues, through the Legal Clinic on Digital Rights. This type of achievement allows the strengthening of the local ecosystem, through the actions of experiences exchange and learning.

On the other hand, IDEC has managed to weave ties and network work between the digital rights community and the consumer rights community in the region, for regional collective political action. These impacts allow strengthening the incidence capacities of civil society against public and private regulations related to personal data protection.

Personal data protection is a developing process that still needs support. Existing regulations require continuous updating in the face of emerging challenges generated by the digital context. It is essential to articulate collective actions in the face of new opportunities between different sectors and communities, which allow the construction of long-term agendas for the defense and protection of personal data.

Success stories, findings and trends in cases of online gender-based violence

Since its creation in 2019, Indela has accompanied various organizations that work to prevent and reduce online gender-based violence (VGL – violencia de género en línea) in Latin America. As part of an external evaluation carried out over these three years of the Initiative, a case study was developed on the work implemented in the VGL thematic axis, to analyze in depth the strategies and the impact of the projects accompanied. The processes led by Luchadoras, Hiperderecho and Cultivando Género were analyzed.

Findings and trends in Latin America

In recent years, new forms of gender violence have been configured through the use of digital technologies. Faced with this growing problem, the organizations that work at the intersection of feminism and technology in the region have redoubled efforts in the search for solutions, setting this matter as a priority within their agendas.

In some countries, specific regulations have been developed to recognize certain types of online gender-based violence as a crime, as in the case of Mexico, with the various reforms to the state Penal Codes, or in Peru, with the reforms to the Penal Code and other laws. Although these regulations are advances in the matter, they are still insufficient to guarantee access to justice for women who have experienced digital violence.

In this context, these three organizations have developed comprehensive strategies with three main lines of action:

  1. Empiric knowledge building through evidence reports, and data systematization to analyze the effectiveness of existing regulation and response mechanisms in these countries.
  2. Comprehensive legal support, which, on the one hand, allowed them to add to axis 1 empirical evidence on the legal complaint processes and also to clearly identify the legal challenges faced by people who denounce digital violence.
  3. Communication strategies for incidence online and offline, allows them to share information about gender-based violence online to identify and combat it, as well as to advise survivors of this violence. These campaigns are characterized by promoting non-revictimization, and the defense of the right to occupy and co-create the digital space.

Achievements and impact on VGL

The projects led by these three organizations have generated successful research processes that have deepened and confirmed the need to promote effective mechanisms for access to justice for survivors of online violence in both Mexico and Peru. In addition, legal support has allowed them to use these processes in their collective incidence strategies. Communication strategies have managed to reach new audiences inside and outside the niche, increasingly reaching women and LGBTIQ+ people who have experienced digital violence. 

Mainstreaming the gender perspective in the work of digital rights is essential to deepen the need for specific regulation that develops comprehensive mechanisms for access to justice, strengthen the regional articulation of organizations, and continue supporting the work and impact of these processes.

20 projects • 3 years of learning • Digital rights • Latin America

Indela (Initiative for Digital Rights in Latin America) began its work to strengthen the digital rights ecosystem in 2019. In these three years, it has supported 20 projects, from 22 organizations, in 10 Latin American countries. The main areas of work, which were identified based on a constant reading of the region needs, were on issues such as reducing online gender violence, protection of personal data, privacy, and the analysis of mass surveillance technologies, among others.

During 2021, an external evaluation team began an analysis process to deepen Indela’s strategic vision, the support it provides and collaboration between peers. This external evaluation made it possible to identify the main future opportunities and challenges facing the digital rights ecosystem in Latin America.

The evaluation process analyzed the projects of eight organizations supported by Indela, conducted 14 interviews with 20 actors related to the Initiative, two learning workshops and a workshop about the future. From this, a report on learning and three case studies on areas of impact were developed.

This blog post is the first publication that shares the main findings and learnings about digital rights future, as well as case studies for each of the main thematic axes.

About the strategic vision

Indela allows us to support a diverse digital rights ecosystem, through the support of projects led by organizations from various countries. The whole strategy of the Fund combines financial and non-financial support.

The first consists of financing the specific project of an organization, which allows the concentration of funds for activities related to the recognition of digital rights in laws and public policies. Financial support has given organizations a key boost, and in some cases even the opening to achieve sustainability through other, larger external funding.

On the other hand, non-financial support is coordinated through specialized consultancies that increase its impact and enhance the achievement of the project’s objectives. This transversal support has especially benefited smaller and emerging organizations in the ecosystem. Indela has supported organizations in matters of legal support, communication strategies development for incidence, and the consolidation of supported organizations.

In this sense, support beyond the project has been sought to focus on strengthening the resilience of organizations at different levels. For example, through non-financial support, tailor-made strategic consultancies have been coordinated for the strengthening of some organizations, which has allowed them to have support both in institutional growth, or even in some cases, support in the face of internal changes in structure that organizations were going through.

The personalized support from the coordinating team has allowed us to build trust to develop close and tailored accompaniment processes that meet the different needs of each organization.

About collaboration

Indela’s collaboration can be analyzed from two axes, on the one hand internally, on the coordination between donors that are part of the Initiative, and on the other externally, on the articulation between the supported organizations.

The coordination between donors, from the different capacities and experience, allowed collaboration, identification of priorities, and support for organizations in countries that traditionally were not able to be reached.

In the collaboration between supported organizations, Indela played a role of flexible facilitator, less institutionalized and planned, to collaborate and identify new areas of opportunity. There is a need to continue the construction of networks or working groups among the supported organizations, especially on some thematic axes, which allows contributing to promote the work of the organizations collectively and regionally.


Consult in the General Report, the results of the external evaluation carried out on Indela.

The general report was written by Anca Matioc, Carla Bonina and Carolina Aguerre, based on the research work of the team. The general report and the accompanying case studies are part of the “Indela Case Studies and Learning” project coordinated by La Sobremesa during the year 2021 for Indela. The project was led by Carla Bonina, Associate Professor at the University of Surrey Business School, and Anca Matioc, Director of La Sobremesa. The research team included Carolina Caeiro, Carolina Aguerre and Federico Albanese, and was supported by Ana Dutari. Guadalupe López was in charge of coordinating the field work and Francisco León of the design.

5 Key Projects to Strengthen Digital Rights

The explosion of employment, education, shopping, access to information and other areas of daily life that have migrated to digital platforms during the last two years due to the pandemic has generated new challenges in the protection of digital rights in Latin America.

Faced with this challenging context, constantly changing in the region, Indela understood that it needed to support, in a flexible and less traditional way, initiatives that aim to raise awareness and defend digital rights. In some cases, this means giving continuity to organizations to strengthen their cycle of impact; in others, it means responding to new opportunities.

As announced in the 2021 Open Call, Indela will support 5 key projects to strengthen digital rights in Latin America. The organizations selected will work in areas such as personal data protection, reduction of gender-based violence online, promoting awareness of mass surveillance systems, gender inclusion in legislative processes and improving conditions for reporting digital vulnerabilities.

Congratulations to Indela’s Selected Projects 2021:

  1. Mujeres por los derechos digitales” [Women for digital rights] by Asociación Aguayo and Fundación InternetBolivia.org, which will seek to include the gender perspective in the legislative and public policy debate on digital rights in Bolivia.
  2. Fortalecimiento de la ciberseguridad a través de cooperación público-privada sobre seguimiento de vulnerabilidades” [Strengthening cybersecurity through public-private cooperation vulnerability monitoring] by Democracia en Red in coalition with the Observatorio de Derecho Informático Argentino, which will advocate for public policies on information security to allow a synergistic channel of communication between tech communities and the national State.
  3. Videovigilad@s inseguros” [Unsafe video surveillance] by IPANDETEC, which will analyze the presence of video surveillance and loss of privacy in Central American in physical and digital environments.
  4. Ley de Violencia Digital Urgente” [Urgent Digital Violence Law] by ONG Amaranta, which will develop a communication campaign to raise awareness about digital violence and the urgency of a bill in Chile.
  5. Fortaleciendo la protección de datos personales en Paraguay desde la sociedad civil” [Strengthening personal data protection in Paraguay from civil society] by TEDIC, which will strengthen the evidence-based debate in Congress and work with the Coalición de Datos Personales for approval of the bill on personal data protection.

Indela, faced with this new reality and a future in which more and more millions of people will migrate part of their daily lives to digital spaces, is excited to work with these projects and continue to strengthen the digital rights ecosystem in Latin America.

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Biometric technologies for mass surveillance; InternetLab’s achievements in the digital rights protection are paving the way forward in Brazil

By InternetLab

Public safety has become a central focus in public, electoral and parliamentary debates in recent years. The direction of these debates and the resulting majority, however, is the proposal of increased surveillance, weaker procedural guarantees, and tougher penalties. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of state and municipal governments relying on biometric technologies, with the justification that they are used for criminal investigations. However, the expansion of these technologies has not been properly accompanied by debates on the risks, proportionality and possible negative impacts. It was with the aim of promoting these debates and advocating among the main actors in public safety that we applied for the 2019 Indela open call, with the project Bringing Due Diligence and Human Rights Standards to the Process of Implementing Biometric Technologies for Mass Surveillance in Brazil.

From July 2019 to April 2021, Indela supported InternetLab in the development of this project with the aim of promoting observance of due diligence and human rights standards in mass surveillance practices using biometric technologies in Brazil, especially when used for public safety and national safety purposes.

In August 2019, we formed a group of organizations that work together to discuss and develop strategies to avoid the implementation of facial recognition cameras in the São Paulo Metro, which was announced in July2019. The first step of this strategy was the preparation of discovery proceedings, presented in February 2020. The action sought to require the São Paulo Metro to produce evidence on the scope, purpose, precautions, and limits of the database of the facial recognition electronic monitoring system. Fortunately, the court’s decisions on the case were favorable; the main petitions were accepted, and the Metro had to provide information on the technology implemented.

Today, expansion of the case is being reviewed as this first action focused only on matters of administrative form and due process without branching into the merits of surveillance. By the second half of 2021, the group intends to file another action questioning these points. In this case, InternetLab is offering support by hiring evaluators who will provide technical information on how the technology works and its risks for vulnerable populations, especially when applied on a large scale. The technical opinion will be of key importance for a paradigmatic national case and will benefit future actions with the same characteristics.

We have also started a collaboration project with the Public Defender’s Office, a key institution for the judicial function of the State, responsible for providing legal guidance and defending underprivileged citizens. It plays a strategic role through its judicial action in representing the preferential clientele of the penal system, the citizens most vulnerable to violations of their rights, and is responsible for a significant portion of the actions, appeals and demonstrations in which human rights are debated and defended. However, it faces the challenge of meeting the demand of an enormous contingency of people with limited resources.

InternetLab began a writing project on institutional thesis proposals of the Public Defender’s Office based on the studies it promotes. Institutional theses are models and guidelines available to public defenders, aimed at creating an institutional position and protecting the interests of the institution’s target audience. The objective has been to disseminate the thesis on the right to privacy throughout the justice system. Today, we have two theses: the first focuses on the use of data from electronic devices seized by the police from individuals caught in the act, and the second on the use of geolocation information of persons not identified by criminal investigations.

The project also anticipates the third and fourth editions of the International Congress on Fundamental Rights and Criminal Procedure in the Digital Era. In Congress, we have the support of citizen security and data protection to promote the debate on the intersection between the criminal process and technology, providing guidelines and guarantees applicable to criminal investigations in the digital era. Recent Congresses have addressed topics such as access to geolocation data, cameras and facial recognition, virtual infiltrations, genetic data, surveillance, protection of privacy and international legal cooperation, and confidentiality of communications, among others. The openings of both Congresses launched new volumes of the work Fundamental Rights and Criminal Procedure in the Digital Era: Doctrine and Practice under Debate, which adds articles and conferences related to the topics discussed at the Congress.

Finally, to focus on the growing use of facial recognition technologies, InternetLab, in partnership with Idec – Brazilian Institute of Consumer Protection, developed a guide of recommendations and best practices for the use of this technology by the private sector. The document, published in October 2020, provides an overview of the problems and risks associated with the use of facial recognition technologies. In addition to the basic operating characteristics of these tools and the guarantees present in Brazilian legislation, we present recommendations aimed at guiding the offer of products and services, and preserving the fundamental rights of citizens.

 

The execution of the project has shown us that there is energy to organize coalitions on biometrics and surveillance with civil society and government organizations. There are spaces to occupy in the intersection between the human rights agenda and criminal justice, as well as between technology and society, and these spaces favor the interaction of areas that reconcile different entities and individuals. Even so, reading the context and current impact of the project also shows that dispute in the legal field can lead to good results, if the rhetoric of this community is used as the basis. The project certainly encouraged InternetLab to create alliances and reflect on how biometric technologies have been used in Brazil, thereby promoting this issue and the need to raise and investigate responses to it within our organization.

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