July 14 2022 GM

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Glitter Meetups

Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the Internet Freedom community at the IFF Square on the IFF Mattermost, at 9am EST / 1pm UTC. Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.

Date: Thursday, July 14th

Time: 9am EDT / 1pm UTC

Who: Paz Peña & Danae Tapia

Moderator: Astha

Where: On IFF Mattermost Square Channel.

Surveillance in the Anthropocene: Stories of extractivist capitalism against indigenous land defenders

Surveillance in the Anthropocene is a research + art initiative that examines the effects of extractivist capitalism, specifically the impact of it on land defenders. The project consists of an investigation of technologies of surveillance against indigenous groups in Canada and in Chile, and displays a curated selection of artworks in which commissioned creatives explored the topic from a perspective of the intimacies affected by these structures of control.

Paz Peña & Danae Tapia are the creators of Gato.Earth, a monthly newsletter dedicated to the intersection of digital technologies and the climate emergency. Both have vast experience in the digital rights ecosystem.

Notes

The featured guests of this Glitter Meetup are Paz and Danae(@pazpena and @danae on Mattermost), the brains behind the project, ‘Surveillance in the Anthropocene: Stories of extractivist capitalism against indigenous land defenders.’ You can check it out at this link!

Let’s start with some background on your project, "Surveillance in the Anthropocene”. When, how, and why did you begin to collaborate together, and what were the issues/ opportunities around digital rights that inspired this project?

  • We've been partners in crime for many years already. Started as colleagues in Derechos Digitales doing different types of digital rights related projects
  • Yes, we started working together because we were colleagues for a long time. And I remember one day when we were talking about the digital rights community, we thought, why isn't anyone in this community talking seriously about climate change? It's like the topic doesn't exist, and we didn't know much about it either! So we said: we have to solve this issue. And we started Gato.Earth, which is mainly an epistolary project where we tell each other what we learn about the relationship between technology and the climate and ecological crisis.

What were your key goals and objectives for this project? And were there any methodologies in particular that informed or underpinned your research?

  • Paz says that she had advanced research on how surveillance technologies were being used very heavily by the Chilean state in its colonial relationship with the Mapuche communities in the south of the country. But she never decided to publish it, something just didn't make sense. Until years later, with Danae, we saw much more clearly the relationship between surveillance technology and the anthropocene and how it was being used by states and the extractivist industry as a way to defend a development model; the same model that has us in this unprecedented crisis.
  • Danae adds that, for this particular project, they tried to move away from the traditional report that no one reads, it is such a stressful subject, we felt that a strictly technical examination was not going to be very advancing of our objectives. This is why we reached out to artists that could help us explore the issue.
  • When they decided to propose this project, we wanted to see the situation in other countries. And we thought that Canada was a super good place, because it extended the problem to industrialized and settler countries plus we knew that the surveillance technologies used against first nations was a problem for years.

And just for folks who might not be familiar with some terminology, would you mind telling us what 'the anthropocene' is?

  • Good idea! It refers to the geological era we are at the moment and is characterized by the human impact on Earth’s geology
  • The Anthropocene concept has been very contested actually, here’s a nice take by the awesome Vandana Shiva about it this is one of my favorite conversations: how colonial, for example, is the anthropocene concept and the use of humans as if all humans in the world have a geological power.

What does surveillance look like in extractivist industries? Who are the key players here, and what kind of methods do they deploy to carry out the surveillance?

  • It is also referred as Capitalocene because is Capitalism and its fossil fuel energy use what has ended up with the climate crisis
  • Paz wrote the awesome reports that are available on the site, the types of surveillance that she found were: open source intelligence (OSINT), disinformation, tele-surveillance: drones and helicopters with cameras. That’s the technical part

Why the Gato name?

  • It was certainly another attempt to move away from boring internetgovernancedigitalrightscybersecurity aesthetics
  • But it is also to leave behind a bit of human supremacism, which is a serious conversation behind the ecological crisis we are facing.

Can you tell us about the other part: how are people on the grassroots level – land defenders and more broadly, indigenous communities – affected by this?

  • That was actually the part that interested us the most, the effect of surveillance
  • There were many manifestations of that, something that struck us was to see how normalized was surveillance, the sound of drones as a regular part of the sonic landscape for instance
  • Or to see that Mapuche children use to draw surveillance cameras in their school assignments.
  • And of course there is the whole interpretation of affected rights which is important but not enough to express how many of these communities are the laboratory of the States to apply new surveillance technologies.

Did you notice the effects of surveillance being more geared towards disruption to everyday life, e.g, sound of drones, or on a larger scale too -- arrests or other restrictive govt activity?

  • Well, there is a discussion that the power, for example, of drones is very symbolic: because it is perceived but also because sometimes it may not be perceived. I think in this case it is the idea of the states to mark a presence, to DISPUTE THE TERRITORY.
  • Surveillance makes it known it is visible but at the same time subtle just to establish power

There are huge lumber companies in the south of Chile, plus. The surveillance comes from the State mostly, or also from the private companies?

  • Very important question. In the case of Chile and Canada there are reports of the use of surveillance technologies by the private sector (especially CCTV and drones).
  • For Danae is like an alliance to advance states and corporate interests, also there is this huge global surveillance industry and its gigantic profits
  • Paz believes that the partnership between the extractive industry (forest industry in Chile, fossil fuels in Canada) and the State (police) in the use of surveillance technologies is much stronger. For many, the police have the sole role of protecting the extractive industry.

Your project examines this in the comparative context of Chile and Canada: can you tell us how the two are similar, as well as how they differ?

  • In terms of surveillance, in both there is use of similar techniques, such as OSINT and drones. But in Chile there are multiple public scandals of, for example, the use of phishing against Mapuche activists. In Canada it is more known about the profiling of activists through open sources.
  • In fact, in Canada, there was an RCMP intelligence initiative called Project Sitka, which concluded in March 2015, that identified 89 individuals — Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and is that was basically a big profiling project based in diverse info, including their activities in social media

How do indigenous groups respond to these threats? And from a global digital rights perspective, what do you think can be done to address the effects of these harmful practices?

  • That question was one of the challenges we encountered, it felt so out of place to adopt this approach of “let’s make a digital security guide and solve the problem”
  • For sure resistance is already taking place, these communities have been organized for years
  • Yes, there is a historical resistance of these communities and this project did not want to take the approach: we are going to teach them.
  • Talking with Mapuche activists in Chile, I believe that today what is worthwhile is to activate ties of planetary solidarity. And I think this makes more sense when we talk about the climate crisis.

Following what you said, it's fascinating that you used art as a practice to engage with these issues. What was that like, and what reactions have you gotten from the broader community?

  • Well, that was my favorite part, we really tried to emphasize the idea of artistic research, this is knowledge generation through art practice. In this field, art is usually an afterthought or something that ornaments
  • We worked with Imaabs (musician), Paloma Palomino and Josefina Astorga (photographers) and Andrés Tapia (visual artist)
  • Paz believes that today we have ample evidence in the community of the illegal and illegitimate use of surveillance technology. Much of that evidence has not been enough to change things, because we are in a worldwide institutional crisis as many of these instances are co-opted by corporate interests. And so I think here we have to think of new forms of reflection and action and art, creative reflection, is a key form.

Maybe you can also tell us about the artists -- did they come from any background in digital rights or tech?

  • Danae thinks that some of them had reflected on digital culture issues, Imaabs for instance is an electronic musician and made really cool points regarding necroethics and tech, and with Paloma we have collaborated in the past using the format of visual essay, once we did some research on AI and Chilean otaku cultures haha

What is something new or surprising that you learned as you worked on the project?

  • Paz thinks it has been incredible to see that all our "knowledge" as digital rights workers makes a lot of sense in the climate and ecological crisis we are living through: starting with the use of surveillance technology. For me it has been a very incredible experience to get closer to environmental activist movements, learn from them and try to broaden my reflection on technologies in this planetary context.