Data Justice in Mexico's Multiveillant Society: How big data is reshaping the struggle for human rights and political freedoms

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Sociology, Philosophy, Anthropology

Abstract

On June 19th, 2017, the New York Times uncovered how the Mexican government was deploying proprietary spyware -(ostensibly) licensed to combat organised crime and terrorism- to conduct surveillance on human rights defenders, critical journalists and political opponents. This exposé was possible via the unique collaboration of 'Citizen Lab' in Canada, WikiLeaks Mexico, and a network of NGOs that tracked the software supplied by the Israeli NSO Group to Mexican intelligence agents. Inspired by this example of sousveillance-the dataveillance from below-we will examine and experiment with new forms of data justice: understood as the continuous effort to use the wealth of available data to promote personal and collective freedoms, taking into account the particular forms of oppression and inequality that shape our world. In the multiveillant society surveillance is run by the intelligence community, by corrupt federal/local authorities, as well as blurred power-crime connections to cartels and organised crime, but also by citizens and NGOs searching for justice and security. Thus, the multiveillant society must also be recognised as including the counter-surveillance innovations and the sites of resistance that have been activated by those targeted.

Mexico draws constant critical attention for its high-levels of crime and weak rule-of-law: more than 160,000 deaths due to violence; some 30,000-people estimated to have been 'disappeared'; kidnappings estimated to run into tens of thousands of victims every year; and, one of the world's worst records for protection of journalists and human rights defenders. However, what has not yet received significant attention, or academic scrutiny is Mexico's emergence as a laboratory for new forms of surveillance (and its resistance). The Mexican scenario fosters a unique opportunity to understand contemporary dilemmas born from the interaction between big data, freedom (of speech, movement, and assembly), and authoritarian and crimnal impulses (state and non-state).

Our project will create a theory/methods package to engage with multiveillance and data justice, through ethnographic research, mobile apps, participatory action research and big-data workshops. Tailored to a politico-legal scenario where the absence of regulation, enforcement and security are the norm; a setting where configurations of data-governance challenge state-corporate efforts of mass dataveillance, we aim to create the first data justice open source tool. Through a deep ethnographic understanding of Mexico's multiveillant society we will make possible new collective forms of data-sharing, data-gathering and data-verification, that so far have only been available to well-funded organisations. In the face of this challenge we want to take advantage of connectedness and social media sharing. To begin with, we will share the data-practices of human rights defenders through an interactive digital handbook that will guide visitors to tools, infographics, apps and videos to stay digitally safe online, but also to engage with the logics and algorithms behind big data and to spot and recognise tactics of disinformation in social media. This we think will enhance personal data-justice. In the collective front we will develop The Govern-app that will tackle the challenges posed by large scale organisation, grass-root security and evidence gathering of human rights violations, in scenarios in which data sharing is permeated by distrust. T he govern-app would allow users to quickly decide what issues to tackle, what are the types of voting and decision making they need, and the types of access, encryption and authority each of the users involved in the creation of the shared digital platform in each scenario will enjoy.

In short, we will co-produce new avenues to practice, to improve and to assert data justice in Mexico, and hopefully (through the impact of our research) in other scenarios around the world.

Planned Impact

Participants from victims' groups and NGOs will directly benefit from organised training sessions and knowledge-exchange activities integral to our participatory research. Not only will his have short-term impacts through trainings, but they will also shape long-term impact strategy through ongoing feedback and contribute to the co-production of outputs and their dissemination. This latter point is vital to our impact strategy of building Mexican capacity and strengthening civil society engagement with data justice. Even though most of the content of the handbook will be downloadable, not least via the project website, a printed outlet will be distributed during the final workshop and during training sessions, for those less familiar and digitally savvy. Both our online presence and the mouth to mouth training and tool co-design will help us harness our networks of interested organisations -participating NGOs and victims' groups, local human rights councils across Mexico, civic activists and religious groups- to ensure that resources developed from this project, e.g. govern-app, downloadable material and hard-copies of impact materials, reach the widest possible range of local beneficiaries - especially those in more isolated communities in need of greater data literacy and digital assistance.


The project bilingual website will mirror the template that has been effectively used in the PI and PDRA's project on the disappeared in Mexico. Parallel websites will maximise the impacts of these complementary projects and also help to forge links across citizen-led action on public security issues in Mexico. The project website will host: the data-justice toolkit, links to the govern-app, an ABC of how to track and uncover a bot campaign to drown political dissent in social media, and digital security advice as well as counter-kidnapping resources. We will periodically update our research briefings; project outputs; media information; and, update the topic in the discussion forum. It will be the key portal for sharing our citizen-led approach; its scope for impact extending beyond Mexico to wider regional/international users. Our apps will be another important vehicle for dissemination and uptake as they will be created since the very beginning by its final users and promoters.


It is also important to note key strengths within the research team. Notably, the PI and PDRA's transformative work on citizen-led forensics and the disappeared in Mexico has garnered wide- ranging policy and media attention, achieving real societal impact. His established connections are further enhanced by the links of Mexican Project Partner, Gobernanza Forense Ciudadana, to civic- action/victims' groups. Drawing on the support of the Mexican collaborator, UNAM (Mexico's most prestigious university), and the local networks and extensive experience of the Mexican team of collaborators, we are well-placed to deliver innovative solutions that will contribute to the strengthening of Mexican civil society. At the transnational level, we also draw upon the COI links to transnational security providers and various INGOs; as well as his current work with the Latin American and transborder civic-action networks working in the US-Mexico border and other parts of Latin America (Brazil and Colombia) and Europe (Portugal).

Publications

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