Voices from the South E-Newsletter
June / July 2020

Latin America is going through a period of uncertainty marked by deep social discontent and an accelerated rush of social and political changes driven by the COVID-19 health emergency.  National and local governments are among other things adopting new technologies and data management systems to cope with the public health emergency and general economic trauma, yet civil society is questioning what is seen as false dilemma many governments are leading us to: that of either health or that of privacy.

In this month’s Voices from the South, we hear from Catalina Balla from Karibu partner Ciudadanía Inteligente (Chile), about the work that the COLECTIVA network of young activists from across Latin America is doing related to “making democracy viral during COVID-19”.  

In particular, we present their “COVID IS NOT AN EXCUSE” campaign that lifts up how COVID-19 is being used by companies and states as excuse to limit rights (through surveillance, invasive use of data, the normalization of violence on the internet, and more).  The campaign lifts up 8 proposals to configure the post-pandemic Internet and digital world.

By Catalina Balla, Ciudadanía Inteligente (Chile)

Catalina Balla, Ciudadanía Inteligente

More than 9 million people in the world have been infected with COVID- 19. We are experiencing a deadly health crisis that is giving rise to an intense process of social, economic and political degradation. The effect of this crisis on all sectors of society is undeniable, but we cannot be naive about which groups will be most affected: Those who have traditionally and systemically been vulnerated and excluded. In this context, Latin America, one of the poorest regions on the planet, faces the certain risk of regressing decades in inequality. We have to be aware!

Even before the pandemic, countries such as Chile, Colombia or Mexico were experiencing diverse social protests demanding improvements in the role of the State and expansion of rights. Shared injustices threw people onto the streets to advocate for a transformation of the social order and solutions to structural problems such as corruption and violence.

However, in 2020 this came to a halt. While demands for change are still there, the citizen action to which we were accustomed simply stopped being possible. Although we have seen that protests against racism and police abuse have not ceased (for example, in Mexico, Brazil or outside the region). The health emergency has limited citizens’ rights and increased the powers of the governments to increase surveillance, control and, in many cases, pass drastic executive orders using the emergency as an excuse.

Because of all of this, at Ciudadanía Inteligente we decided to raise our voices and bring together our great activist network from 14 Countries, COLECTIVA. The plan: “Make democracy viral during COVID-19” – What happens to our rights when freedom is threatened? Together we decided to organize our first communication campaign to say loudly, Covid is NOT an excuse!

Covid is NOT an excuse to normalize violence on the Internet

Covid is NOT an excuse to give up our data and our privacy

Covid is NOT an excuse for surveillance and secrecy by companies and governments

Covid is NOT an excuse for the invasive use of data by companies and States

We know the participation of civil society in the debates on digital rights is still limited, that is why, through the Colectiva network, we aim to add diverse activist voices, from environmentalism, gender struggles, the defense of human rights, and many others, to public debates.

“COVID IS NOT AN EXCUSE” Campaign video from the COLECTIVA activist network, via Ciudadanía Inteligente (Chile)

Our campaign, only possible with Karibu’s support, also includes 8 proposals to reconfigure the predominant narratives or discourses on the Internet to protect democracy.

  1. Recognize the Internet as a public space that we share and inhabit. The network is a real space, with tangible impacts on our lives.
  1. Defend the Internet as a common good, as a space to affirm and defend rights and collective action. Digital technologies must be promoted as tools that support processes of social change, organization, meeting and participation. Let’s defend an Internet that strengthens democracy!
  1. Not everyone has real access to the Internet. We need to make a more democratic, free, plural and open space.
  1. Digital technologies are seen as a solutions to all kinds of problems. We must question the interests of those who propose them. We must not blindly accept solutions that can harm our privacy and civil rights.
  1. A healthy democracy depends on the interaction of autonomous individuals. Individual autonomy depends on having privacy. Defending the Internet as a space where privacy matters benefits the entire society.
  1. We must stop normalizing digital violence as part of Internet interactions, recognizing that it has real impacts on people’s lives. Digital violence is an extension of offline violence, which is evident and is carried out through technology.
  1. We must be aware that digital networks have physical and social impacts. Visits, likes, reproductions, and interactions imply energy consumption, hardware waste generation, and a greater deployment of infrastructures such as marine cables and data centers.
  1. Technology can support pandemic control while respecting rights and freedoms. All initiatives based on technology and management of personal databases must be transparent, respectful of rights and comply with measures that protect our information.

COVID-19 is not an excuse to collect unnecessary data, or to not improve the protection practices and ethical development of technology for the public interest. Short-term efficiency should not undermine human rights.

Let’s defend digital democracy!

Here you can check the video. For more information about the campaign can be found here.

Download PDF: Coming soon

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