My Week at the Circumvention Tech Festival

by Dhyta Caturani April 02, 2015
It was an honor for me to be invited to join Circumvention Tech Festival and the first Trainers Summit ever in the Mediterranean city of Valencia, Spain from March 1–6, 2015. This is a report back on how my week was spent there.

I

Valencia was bright and sunny on March 1st, the first day of the Circumvention Tech Festival (CTFestival) organised by OpenIT and several partners. Well, it was sunny but still pretty chilly for someone like me who came from a tropical country. But that didn’t hinder me from feeling all excited to join more than 400 activists fighting censorship and surveillance for a week of conferences, workshops, hackathons and social gatherings.

The goal of the CTFestival was to provide a space for the community to pool resources, share knowledge, skills and experience, as well as build networks. What made it so much more interesting was that developers were also present, which gave us, the activists on the ground who use the tools they create, an opportunity to interact with them.

The festival was kicked off with the Circumvention Tech Summit (CTS), a one day unconference where participants got to know each other and the event, as well as to explore the topics for discussions set to take place the following week. After lightning speed introductions of every participant, and an explanation of the event and its (strict) privacy rules, a skills-share session began with tons of topics to choose from, ranging from various countries experience sharing on censorship and surveillance situations, to how to conduct digital security trainings, understanding tools such as Enigmail, TOR, TAILS, mobile security tools, etc, to how to get organizational buy-ins and many more.

To find out more about the conferences, workshops, hackathons and social gatherings that happened, go here.

II

The second day was open for everyone to go to the specific events they came to the festival for. As for myself, I joined the Trainers Summit organized by Internews, TOR Project, and IREX. The summit was attended by more than 100 participants from all over the world with all regions being represented. The first half of the first day was open to members of the public and started with a speed-geeking session featuring 11 organizations presenting their work. I was one of the 11, and presented our work for EngageMedia and video4change, which is a global network of organizations using video for social change.

The rest of the summit was private and only for participants who registered prior. For the next four days, we discussed everything regarding digital security training. We started out with mapping out regions and countries where participants conduct digital security trainings and who we train. It was such an amazing feeling to see the wide range of countries and communities everyone was working in and with. It gave us a clearer idea of how digital security is being spread throughout the world.

The summit also tried to map out what digital security trainers around the world needed, be it knowledge, skills, tools, or other resources that would help them do their work on the ground.

The best part in my view, were the break-out sessions where we planned a training based on (mostly) real-life cases. Those sessions provided us with a lot of insights and experiences from different places. I think the sessions were very fruitful to me to learn about best practices from other trainers, on what I think I can apply in my trainings. We also tried to formulate a way to shift the focus of digital security trainings from tools to humans.

On the last day, we had a chance to have small group discussions on various tools and talked to some of the developers. It was a good opportunity to get better understandings of the tools and updates on the their development.

III

Gender and sexuality was a major intersecting issue that was discussed a lot during the summit, by being built-in to the sessions and in and of itself. Some of the highlights included the discussion on how to work with communities of women and especially LGBTIQ on issues of privacy, surveillance and digital security, as well as a conversation on whether it's a good idea to mix women and LGBTIQ in general trainings. And if that is possible, we discussed what the appropriate strategies to conduct such inclusive trainings are. All the dialogue on gender and sexuality gave us a strong realization of how we need more women trainers, and trainers who understand those issues well or are at least gender-sensitive. Another issue that I personally think worth noting is that we need more trainers from Asia since it was well under represented (there were only 4 of us from 3 countries, of which only 1 from Southeast Asia). It may be because there is not many out there or it may be because we haven't identified them.

As a whole, the CTFestival and the Trainers Summit were huge successes. I didn’t learn many new skills in terms of the use of tools, but I guess the summit was not designed for that. It was designed to be a space to share experiences and a methodologies in delivering trainings. It successfully fulfilled that goal, and it was proven to be invaluable!

I hope that the summit would not stop at this, since it would be great to have everything documented and shared widely, not only what was brought up during the summit but also any developments, progress, experiments, and best practices afterwards. And I believe that level-up would be a great platform for a collaborative effort such as that.

*Image from here.