By Kim Harrisberg | South Africa correspondent
From phishing traps to arrests based on their social media posts alone, activists from Russia to Uganda say they’re increasingly being watched for their online campaigning.
Climate and anti-war Russian activist Arshak Makichyan told us he knew he was being watched online when he was arrested as he left his Moscow home last year, after sharing plans to protest against the war in his personal chats and on social media.
Over in India, 22-year-old environmental campaigner Disha Ravi was arrested and charged with sedition in 2021 after creating and sharing an online document to support months-long farmer protests.
LGBT+ activists face similar challenges. Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that dating apps and social media were used to entrap LGBT+ individuals and activists in the Middle East and North Africa, subjecting them to extortion and harassment.
A student smiles while holding a climate protest sign at her school in the Kibaha district, Tanzania, October 9, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Handout via PGF
And Reuters this week revealed that two journalists had their identities faked by an unknown person or people who then used sham social media accounts to engage with Chinese activists on several online platforms over several months.
For activists around the world, the internet has become an integral part of how they share information, plan protests and, paradoxically, navigate surveillance.
Privacy experts say that as online surveillance grows, so too are activists’ digital security strategies: from tracking one another’s movements using secure phone messaging apps, to hiding identities of online petition signatories and holding webinars to share privacy tips.
A software engineer works on a facial recognition program that identifies people when they wear a face mask at the development lab of the Chinese electronics manufacturer Hanwang (Hanvon) Technology in Beijing as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), China, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Rest of the world: what’s new?
Rina Chandran, tech correspondent
In India, Uttar Pradesh state has installed about 300,000 CCTV cameras “to prevent cheating” during school examinations that are underway. It’s not clear if the cameras are equipped with facial recognition technology, who will have access to the feeds, how long the data will be stored for, or if the schools informed parents they will be recording minors. Meanwhile, the country’s data protection bill is still awaiting passage.
Avi Asher-Schapiro, tech correspondent
The Chinese video sharing App TikTok is on the ropes. This week, a key committee in the U.S. House will pass a bill that would empower the Biden administration to ban the app outright, according to CNBC. On Tuesday Canada banned it from government devices. As Context has reported, more than half of U.S. states have adopted bans over concerns that user data could be accessed by China.
A magistrate speaks during a Colombian court hearing held in the Metaverse, February 15, 2023, in this still image taken from a social media video. Bogota?s Municipal Criminal Court 69/via REUTERS
Diana Baptista, Mexico correspondent
A Colombian court hosted the country’s first legal trial in the metaverse, in an attempt to use virtual reality to relieve the overloaded justice system. Magistrate María Quiñones Triana, who held the two-hour hearing on a traffic dispute, told Reuters the virtual tribunal was unpopular among viewers. However, she said, it could be useful in cases of abuse where participants can avoid physically seeing each other.
Adam Smith, tech correspondent
The UK National Health Service (NHS) is looking to use artificial intelligence (AI) to plug staff shortages, amid industrial action from workers. The Times reports AI could be used to automate analysis of scans and tests, fill forms, and use speech recognition software to alleviate doctors’ paperwork. However, critics say that the ideas are vague and introducing new technology could actually increase the need to hire employees.