Community Grant Program — interview with Open Privacy

We are excited to announce the first round of grantees. We hope this will help you and or your organization in applying for this program. We will be accepting applications on a rolling basis until November 9th 2018.

Digital Justice Lab
Oct 2, 2018 · 5 min read

Open Privacy is a non-profit based in Vancouver. Through the grant program, Open Privacy will offer privacy/online safety training and one-on-one security assessment to at-risk communities, specifically gender and sexual minority (GSM) communities, sex workers, and survivors of domestic violence. Their assistance will be free-of-charge to community members, and the materials developed will be available online.

What project conversation will you be running with the grant you receive?

Open Privacy will be using this grant to offer free privacy/online safety trainings and one-on-one security assessments to marginalized communities. Our initial focus will be on gender and sexual minority (GSM) communities, sex workers, and survivors of domestic violence.

This will be a two-step process: first, we will be sending a staff member to work with notable experts familiar with working with at-risk and targeted groups on sensitive topics concerning their digital safety and privacy. We view this as an imperative first step toward tailoring our trainings, recommendations and practices to the communities we serve, and preventing more unique threat models from falling through the cracks. It also serves to amplify the expertise currently held by a few stellar individuals already working in this area (and usually volunteering their own personal time).

Second, we’ll slowly roll out our program by beginning with pilot testing with individuals from the community, before moving on to larger training events. We will start small, holding events in our local community first, but we hope to expand our reach across the country and eventually be able to conduct one-on-one assessments online with those who need it most. All our assistance will be free-of-charge to community members, and the materials we develop will be posted online to help others.

Why is it important to navigate digital rights locally within your community?

The communities we work with face threats atypical to those addressed by standard online safety training. GSM minors just beginning to navigate their identities need a level of privacy above and beyond what is offered by end-to-end encryption. Transgender people in particular frequently face the challenging task of managing multiple online identities in a world of technology that is not designed for this task. The surveillance they face is often not from the government but from family, peers at school, and school administrators that often do not have their best interests at heart. Sex workers need to manage large lists of contacts with the constant fear of their device being physically seized and their clients being put at risk, or having to meet strangers in person only to be stung by law enforcement (frequently in jurisdictions where their work is perfectly legal). Their access to online spaces is also under constant fire due to the ripple effect felt by the US SESTA/FOSTA legislation.

Victims of domestic abuse face a world increasingly filled with Internet of Things devices that enable surveillance and control of their very home and actions within it, providing little respite from these privacy-invading devices and their controllers. All of these groups have in common that they are frequently not in sole control of their own devices, an aspect of threat modelling that is too-often not considered by traditional approaches to digital rights and digital security.

Tell us more about your organization.

Open Privacy is a new non-profit based in Vancouver, Canada, founded by Sarah Jamie Lewis, Dan Ballard, and Erinn Atwater. Open Privacy researches and develops privacy tools for/with/by marginalized communities, in addition to doing outreach to give back to the communities we work with.

We believe that today’s technology is veering too far toward a lack of control over our data, and that this lack of control is a violation of our consent. By working directly with the communities that we ourselves are a member of, we believe we can perform research and build tools and develop best practices that empower people instead of controlling them and contributing to their further marginalization.

We hope the non-profit model will enable us to offer services that best further the interests and wellbeing of at-risk groups and individuals, without being driven by the capitalist interests of private companies that require a return-on-investment before considering such projects viable.

What impact do you hope to have with this project?

We hope that this project will be a springboard giving Open Privacy the capacity and expertise to continue offering these resources freely and on an ongoing basis to give back to the communities we work with.

We hope that freely providing training to at-risk groups will further empower them to take their online safety into their own hands, not subject to the whims of the major corporations who develop their communications tools.

We hope that by identifying and supporting community leaders and giving them the tools and best practices needed to sustain their online safety and enforce their digital rights, these practices will spread beyond the reach of Open Privacy and have a more wide-ranging impact.

We hope that offering one-on-one advice and triage will assist people in dangerous situations.

We hope to help people explore their identities, help them to work in safety, and to enforce their own rights to privacy in panoptic environments that are hostile to informed consent.

What is important to you around digital rights? As you might know we started a petition called what would you like to see in a digital rights strategy?

Open Privacy believes that technology can and should exist to empower, not to further marginalize. We believe in giving consumers the ability to consent to when, where, and with whom their data is stored and shared in an informed manner. We think any digital rights strategy must center the voices of the most marginalized in our society, as the ones facing the most critical threats in digital spaces are also the ones most suited to addressing them. Addressing digital rights as a nation can only be done by involving and embracing all members of that country, and working with them to understand the full range of issues facing the diverse population that makes Canada what it is.

Want to apply to the Digital Rights Community Grant Program? Check out our website We will be hosting virtual office hours each week for the next month.

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