Tactical Tech’s new Mobile-in-a-Box

One of the self-organized sessions I attended at MobileActive ’08 was led by Tactical Tech. The session introduced the group’s new toolkit, Mobiles in-a-box: Tools and Tactics for Mobile Advocacy. The kit is a “collection of tools, tactics, how-to guides and case studies designed to inspire advocacy organisations and present possibilities for the use of mobile telephony in their work.”

Given my dissertation research on the tactical uses of technology by repressive regimes and resistance movements, I was very much looking forward to reading through the tool kit on my way back to Boston. Tactical Tech’s work also overlaps with my interest in strategic nonviolence and digital activism, two topics that I have given presentations and lectures on over the years.

Not surprisingly, most of the toolkit’s points on security issues are identical to some of the lessons learned in the field of conflict early warning and humanitarian response. One point of contention, however, is that according Mike Grenville, it is not sufficient to simply turn off a mobile phone to prevent the device’s location from being tracked, one must also remove the phone’s batteries. The toolkit does not make this suggestion even though the guide does cite Mike’s work. I wonder who’s right, anyone know?

Perhaps the most interesting piece of information I learned by reading the toolkit is the following:

Each image that you make [sic] on your phone automatically contains details of the location, along with details of the date, time adn type of camera or phone used; this is part of the JPG standard, teh file format most commonly used for digital images. […] Tools are available which enable this ‘hidden’ information to be viewed and, in most cases, stripped out before the image is forwarded […]. You can download a freeware tool called JPEG stripper which will remove the ‘metadata’ from your images.

The kit is without doubt an important contribution to the field and serves as a valuable resource to new activists interested in using mobile phones for advocacy. The key word here being “new”. What is really missing is a strong link with the advanced tactics and scenarios developed within the field of nonviolent action and associated lessons learned. While I have written about this before, I am repeatedly struck by the (particularly unhelpful) gulf that exists between the fields of digital activism and strategic nonviolence, which is one of the main reasons why I joined DigiActive.

It is important that the community of digital activists spend some serious time learning about the field and practice of strategic nonviolence. This means reading the literature, understanding historical and contemporary case studies, participating in nonviolent action trainings and meeting counterparts engaged in strategic nonviolence. Fear not, I’m telling my colleagues in the strategic nonviolence field the same thing about digital activists. But what we need is to cross-fertilize expertise in both fields is to organize a two-day workshop that brings both communities together to discuss tactics, tactics and tactics.

I will do my best to make this happen in 2009. However, this will only work via partnerships and collaboration. DigiActive already has links with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). Perhaps Tactical Tech and Digital Democracy might want to contribute their expertise?

In the meantime, I’d like to recommend that my colleagues in the field of digital activism and tactical technology start playing “A Force More Powerful.”

Patrick Philippe Meier

3 responses to “Tactical Tech’s new Mobile-in-a-Box

  1. Pingback: humanitarian.info » Quickbits October 2008

  2. I recently interviewed Pavel, a Belarusian media activist living in exile (www.3dway.org), about mobile phone use. It seems that no one is really sure whether mobile phones can be tapped or localized when turned off; but to be sure, some Belarusian activists remove the battery when privacy is critical. They also use Russian hacker software to “clean” cell phone IDs in addition to using new SIM cards, This makes surveillance by Lukashenka’s KGB spooks less likely.

  3. Thanks for the additional info, Fabien!

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