From show on blog page


Subversion in Vienna

Niels ten Oever held a talk on the subversion of equality and freedom of users in the Internet architecture at the Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab of the Vienna University of Economics and Business. The talk built on a mixed methods analysis of the Internet architecture and its technical governance, and showed how the Internet protocol community structurally did not uphold the values it professes, such as end-to-end, permissionless innovation, and openness. This opened up a discussion how such governance institutions could then be expected to safeguard external principles, such as the public values, which might run counter to the interests of many of the represented stakeholders. This sparked a lively discussion among the attending academics and policy makers about value frameworks and analytical tools and approaches that transverse the fields of technologists, policy makers, the law, and academia.



Thinking global while also acting local: DATACTIVE and the Amsterdam digital agenda

The municipality of Amsterdam published its Digital Agenda in which it presents its ambitions to become a free, inclusive, and creative digital city. Amsterdam is grounding its ambitions on the early experiences with networking technology in the Netherlands, after which the agenda was called: The Digital City (De Digitale Stad). At DATACTIVE Niels ten Oever thoroughly analyzed the agenda and commend the city for its ambition to base the digital city of the future on digital rights. The approach of the city is anchored in concepts such as privacy, inclusivity, transparency, sovereignty, autonomy, universal access, transparency, openness, participation, and security, which are to be developed in a ‘Cities Coalition for Digital Rights’, and through interviews and cocreation sessions.

While the ambition is very laudable, the agenda has little to no references to existing legal, ethical, or technical standards on which this work can build. This could lead to a duplication of efforts, and a repetition of (expensive) mistakes that have already been made. This is why Jeroen de Vos represented DATACTIVE at the meeting of the Amsterdam Municipal Commission on Art, Diversity, and Democratization and offered suggestions that could assist the successful design, implementation, and evaluation of the Digital Agenda. The full text of the contribution can be read underneath (in Dutch). In the contribution DATACTIVE reiterates the importance of human rights in general and the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, the international standards for state and corporate accountability in specific, in the implementation of technical infrastructures.

We hope and trust that our analysis of the report, which we shared with the municipality, will be our first contribution to the construction of a public information infrastructure in Amsterdam.

The original text of the oral contribution as read by Jeroen de Vos:

Geachte leden van de Raadscommissie Kunst Diversiteit en Democratisering,

Ik spreek hier namens DATACTIVE, een onderzoeksgroep aan de universiteit van Amsterdam die de sociale en democratische consequenties van datastromen onderzoekt. Wij namen dan ook met grote waardering kennis van de ambitie van de gemeente om een digitale strategie te ontwikkelen waarin mensenrechten een belangrijke plek krijgen. De gemeente plaatst zich hiermee midden een debat over de technologische infrastructuur van onze samenleving.

Wij hopen dat de gemeente niet zal proberen het wiel opnieuw uit te vinden: er zijn reeds veel digitale vrijheidsverklaringen, mensenrechtenverdragen, en technische standaarden ontwikkeld op dit gebied die de gemeente zo kan overnemen. Hierover wordt niets gezegd in de digitale agenda. Dat zou een gemiste kans zijn.

Wij willen van harte aanbevelen dat de gemeente in kaart brengt op welke verdragen, implementatieraamwerken, en technische standaarden ze zich gaat baseren. Dat kan worden gedaan als aanvulling op de agenda en meegenomen worden bij de uitvoering. Dit zal ook de implementatie van de agenda ten goede komen, omdat er dan heldere indicatoren en evaluatie criteria zijn en daarmee goed duidelijk wordt wat de digitale agenda gaat betekenen voor Amsterdammers.

Een van de belangrijke raamwerken die al bestaan, zijn de zogenaamde Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights van de Verenigde Naties. Dat is wereldwijd zowel in bij overheden als bij bedrijven de gouden standaard voor de implementatie van digitale rechten. Het zou goed zijn als deze wordt betrokken bij de uitvoering van de Agenda Digitale Stad.

Als de gemeente dat niet doet, zal zij geen kennis hebben van best practices, vanaf het begin achterlopen met de implementatie, en reeds gemaakte fouten en werk dupliceren.

Wij zijn natuurlijk bereid mee te denken, Amsterdam te situeren in de voorhoede van de infrastructurele digitale mensenrechten discussie.



#JustPublished! “Accounting for power in transnational civic tech activism (…)” by Kersti Wissenbach

Fresh from the DATACTIVE press: Kersti Wissenbach introduces the concept of ‘acting within’ to contemporary media practice approaches on the intersection of communication and social movement studies. She argues for the need to take distance from pre-assigned indications of exclusion and builds on the de-westernisation discourse of communication scholarship in her strive to provide a framework that allows the surfacing of roots of power in diverse country and inner-country contexts. The article examines the need for an explicit conceptualisation of communication in the field of social movement research in order to grasp power dynamics within transnational civic tech activism communities. Civic tech activism is an instance of organised collective action that acts on institutionally regulated governance processes through the crafting of technologies and tactics supporting citizens’ direct political participation.

This theoretical discussion builds the foundation of Kersti’s research into transnational data activist collectives, nurtured by her background in critical development, post-colonialism, and communication for social change.

Read the article!

How to cite it:

Wissenbach, K. R. (2019). Accounting for power in transnational civic tech activism: A communication-based analytical framework for media practice. International Communication Gazette.
Photo from Pixabay

[bigdatasur] Jitihada La Ughaibu Afrika

By Duncan KinuthiaFord/Media Democracy Fund Tech Exchange Fellow at Research ICT Africa

>>> if you Swahili is not good enough, check out the English translation! <<<

Watumizi wa mtandao Afrika wanazidi kuongezeka katika kusaka ughaibu kwenye mtandao. Hii imehamasishwa na ripoti za hivi majuzi za ukiukaji wa uaminifu na faragha wa data katika mitandao ya kijamii. Hii pamoja na kuvuka mpaka katika usalama na udhibiti wa serikali imesababisha kuongezeka kwa vifaa vya ughaibu wa data. Ama kweli, watumizi wanafanya hima ili kuweza kupata habari safi, usalama na faragha mtandaoni. Kwa vile muundo wa mtandao hauruhusu ughaibu kamili, waeza kupata ughaibu huu kwa kutoa majina ama habari itakayokubainisha na kwa kutumia teknolojia fiche katika habari za watumizi wa wavuti. Utumizi wa VPN (Virtual Private Network) imeongezeka kwa watumizi wa wavuti duniani pamoja na makampuni kwa ajili ya ongezeko la teknolojia fiche zipatikanazo kwenye VPN katika usambazaji wa data kwenye mtandao ulio na upungufu wa usalama. Hii imesababisha ukuaji wa maonyesho wa soko la VPN muongo uliopita na pia MarketWatch kuripoti asilimia kumi na nane katika kiwango cha ukuaji kila mwaka. Miunganisho ya VPN imeimarishwa kwa kutumia njia ya teknolojia fiche ikifuatiliwa na uthibitisho ya lazima kwa mtumiaji ili aweze kupata kuunganishwa kwa hiyo VPN.

Afrika imekabiliwa na mlipuko wa matumizi wa simu zilizo na upatikanaji wa mkondoni muongo uliopita ambao umesababisha kuongezeka kwa watumiaji wa mtandao barani Afrika. Mlipuko huu umeleta mageuzi bora ya kiuchumi, kisiasa na kijamii. Mojawapo ikiwa watumiaji zaidi wakiingia katika mitandao ya kijamii ili kuweza kuendelea kuwasiliana na familia na marafiki na hata kueneza shughuli za kiuchumi. Biashara ya wavuti pia imeenea Afrika ikichochewa na ukuaji wa matumizi ya huduma za fedha za simu kote barani. Ilhali utumizi wa mtandao umeleta faida kikandani kuna udhibiti, kuzimisha na kodi ya mitandao ya kijamii pia imezidi. Matendo haya ya kiukaji yaweza kupunguza faida za digitization.

Kwa watumizi wa mtandao wengi Afrika mitandao ya kijamii ndiyo mtandao halisi kwao na gharama kubwa ya bandwidth ndiyo kikwazo kikuu cha utumizi wake. Mfano ni watumizi wa Uganda ambao walihangaishwa na ushuru liyofanywa rasmi kuanzia tarehe moja Julai mwaka wa 2018. Sheria, iliyopitishwa na bunge la Uganda inatia kodi ya shilingi mia mbili za Uganda ($ 0.05) kwa matumizi ya mitandao ya kijamii kila siku. Hii ni sawa na dola 19 ($19) kwa kila mwaka na pamoja na gharama kubwa za bandwidth inazuia sana matumuzi ya mitandao ya kijamii, kutokana na kwamba jumla ya bidhaa za nyumbani kwa kila mtu ilikuwa dola mia sita na nne ($ 604) tu mwaka 2017. Ili kuepuka ushuru wa matumizi ya mitandao ya kijamii, watu wanatafuta njia za kuihepa. Utafiti uliofanywa juu ya kodi ya mitandao ya kijamii nchini Uganda umebaini kwamba asilimia hamsini na saba ya watumiaji waligeuka kwa huduma za VPN ili kuepuka kodi iliyolazimishiwa kwao.

Hata hivyo, hizi sio sababu za pekee ambazo watumiaji wa Afrika wanatumia VPN. Kwa mfano, Kenya, watumiaji wengi wa mtandao hutumia VPN na kuhadaa DNS kuepukana na vitengo vya Geo, ambapo maudhui mengi ya elimu na burudani haipatikani nchini kwa sababu ya leseni, hati miliki na ukosefu wa soko kubwa ili kuhakikisha kurudi kwa uwekezaji, kwa kuwa mtandao bado haujapenya vizuri barani. Huduma hizo zinajumuisha Spotify, vipindi na sinema nyingi kwenye Netflix, muziki wa YouTube, Google Music, Google Play Books, Pandora na huduma zinginezo. Watumiaji wa mtandao wameamua kutumia VPN na kuhadaa DNS ili waweze kupata huduma hizi.

Katika nchi nyingine, matumizi ya mtandao ya kijamii yanaonekana kuwa tishio kwa uanzishwaji, na serikali zimeweka masharti ya kisiasa ya mtandao. Vikwazo vya mtandao vinatumiwa kukabiliana na matumizi ya huduma za VPN ili kupata maudhui yaliyolengwa, kama vile matumizi ya uhusiano wa VPN juu ya mtandao inategemea uhusiano wa mtandao. Idadi kubwa ya vikwazo vya mtandao vilivyoripotiwa katika nchi za Afrika hufanyika wakati wa uchaguzi, juu ya madai ya kudhibiti uenezi wa habari bandia. Wananchi wa Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo ni waathirika wa hivi karibuni kwa hili, baada ya kuzimwa kamili kwa mtandao wakati wa uchaguzi wa Desemba 30. Nchi nyingine za Kiafrika ambazo zimekuwa na vikwazo vya mtandao ni kama Ethiopia, Cameroon, Gambia na Gabon.

Ufahamu wa kikanda juu ya hatari za ufunuzi wa habari na ukiukaji kwenye wavuti ni duni, kwani wafrika wengi hawajajaliwa kutumia mtandao. Kwa kuongeza, wale wanaotumia mtandao hawajui vitisho vya wavuti. Ripoti ya Utoaji wa Usalama wa Afrika ya 2016 ilibainisha kuwa asilimia hamsini ya waliohojiwa hawakupewa mafunzo ya usalama wa cyber. Hii imechangia kuongezeka kwa gharama za makadirio ya uhalifu wa wavuti, Nigeria ikiwa na gharama kubwa zaidi ya $550 milioni. Hata hivyo, kama matumizi ya mtandao yanakua Afrika, haja ya kuhakikisha usalama wa habari kulinda utambulisho wa watu na matumizi ya bure ya mtandao, huja kama jambo muhimu. Kuelewa mbinu za sasa za ughaibu wa data, zana na mazoea kote kandani na jinsi hatua za usalama za habari zinazotumiwa na watumiaji wa Afrika ni muhimu kwa kuinua ufahamu, na hivyo kuleta ushahidi kwenye mjadala wa sasa wa sera juu ya faragha na usalama mtandaoni kutoka kwa mtazamo wa Afrika.

Mwaka mmoja ujao, nitafanya kazi chini ya Media Democracy Fund Tech Exchange Program, na Research ICT Africa, katika utafiti juu ya udhibiti wa habari katika Afrika Mashariki, ikiwa ni pamoja na matumizi ya mbinu za ughaibu wa data na ufanisi wa DNS, lengo muhimu likiwa kuhusu matumizi ya VPN. Research ICT Afrika ni kundi la wataalam wanaojadili sera ya kikanda ya ICT na wanafanya utafiti mbalimbali juu ya utawala digital, sera na kanuni zinazowezesha sera zilizoarifiwa kwa ajili ya upatikanaji bora, matumizi ya teknolojia ya digital kwa maendeleo ya kiuchumi na kijamii Afrika kwa kutumia ushahidi hakika.

Lengo kuu la mradi wangu wa utafiti ni kuangazia mazoezi ya kutumia VPN kama chombo cha ughaibu wa data katika Afrika Mashariki, kwa watumiaji binafsi na mashirika yasiyo ya faida (NPO).

Miongozo itakayoongoza uchunguzi na utafiti wangu ni haya:

  1. Ni sababu gani kuu za kutumia VPN kama mbinu ya ughaibu wa data katika Afrika Mashariki?
  2. Ni nani watumiaji wakuu wa VPN katika Afrika Mashariki na ni nini mwenendo katika   vikundi tofauti vya watumiaji kwa umri na jinsia?
  3. Kwa nini watumiaji wa mtandao na NPO hutumia VPN katika Afrika Mashariki?
  4. VPN imetumiwa wapi zaidi?
  5. Na VPN ilitumiwa lini katika Afrika Mashariki?
  6. VPN na zana zingine za ughaibu wa data zimetumiwaje ili kuhakikisha usalama na ufaragha wa habari Afrika Mashariki?

Utafiti juu ya matumizi ya zana za ughaibu wa data katika Afrika ya Mashariki utakuwa muhimu kwa kueneza ufahamu kwa wanaharakati wa data. Mkusanyiko wa data juu ya mbinu mbali mbali zinazotumiwa na watumiaji wa mtandao katika Afrika ya Mashariki kufikia kutokujulikana kwa mtandao zitatiweka dhahiri mbinu za ubunifu ambazo watu hutumia kuhepa vikwazo vilivyowekwa na mashirika makubwa na serikali.

Baadhi ya matokeo ya uchunguzi yataonyesha mienendo ya matumizi ya zana za uonyesho wa data wakati wa vipindi vya uchaguzi wa nchi zilizoathiriwa na kuzimwa kwa mitandao ya kijamii. Utafiti huo utafafanua pia jinsi makundi mbalimbali ya watumiaji hutumia VPN ili kuwezesha upatikanaji wa burudani ya jiji iliyozuiwa pamoja na maudhui ya elimu au usalama wa data kutokana na vipengele vya teknolojia fiche.

Kwa suala la mapendekezo ya sera, utafiti huu utasaidia kuelewa wa dhana ya data kutoka kwa mtazamo wa Kiafrika na utajulisha mjadala wa sera za kikanda na kimataifa juu ya faragha, usalama na usalama mtandaoni katika Afrika. Utafiti huo pia utatoa mapendekezo kwa watumiaji wa internet wa Afrika juu ya jinsi ya kuwa salama mtandaoni kwa njia ya uhamisho wa data kote kanda.




Announcing the Magma project

By Vasilis Ververis, DATACTIVE

Magma aims to build a scalable, reproducible, standard methodology on measuring, documenting and circumventing internet censorship, information controls, internet blackouts and surveillance in a way that will be streamlined and used in practice by researchers, front-line activists, field-workers, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists.

In recent years, a number of research fellows, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers as well as a larger research community, have been working in high-risk contexts, which creates the need to consider their qualitative and quantitative research data as highly sensitive. Albeit their competitiveness and high qualification in their respective areas (social and political science, usability, law, political economy analysis), they can rarely claim to have a specific expertise or extensive experience when it comes to networks services and systems, telecommunication infrastructure, applied data analysis of network measurements, internet censorship, surveillance and information controls.

Ideally, researchers working with various network measurement tools and frameworks such as the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), should have qualified technical help and assistance, thus enabling them to develop appropriate testing methodologies, suiting exactly their research environment and needs.

Magma aims to build a research framework for people working on information controls and network measurements, facilitating their working process in numerous ways. As such, this framework will enable them to properly structure an activity plan, make informed choices regarding the required tools (including ethical and security aspects) and analyze the data produced by such tools.

Through Magma, we wish to provide our expertise and experience in network measurements, internet censorship research, assessment of ISP network, surveillance probing and data analysis in order to:

  • Asses the risks by providing, implementing and maintaining technologies demanded by researchers on front-lines and areas where the need of operational security, anti-surveillance and censorship circumvention is of paramount importance.
  • Provide tailored technical assistance, developing at the same time appropriate testing methodology for network measurements, evaluation and analysis of data and reports that correspond to the respective research questions.
  • On a long-term basis, build a scalable and reproducible methodology for collecting, evaluating and analyzing data and reports’ self-defense for front-line researchers, front-line activists, field-workers, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists, by keeping exact documentation.

Below, we list some examples of potential future research around internet censorship, information controls and surveillance, mainly based on conducting networks measurements and analyzing its results:

Egypt: Media censorship, Tor interference, HTTPS throttling and ads injections?

A study on Tor network and media websites blockages, network bandwidth throttling and malicious network packet injections that contained malware and advertising content.

OONI Data Reveals How WhatsApp Was Blocked (Again) in Brazil

A study to determine how WhatsApp has been blocked after a judge’s court order all over the country of Brazil.

Understanding Internet Censorship Policy: The Case of Greece

An extensive large scale research analyzing the policies and techniques used to block content deemed illegal by a state identifying transparency problems, collateral damage and the implications of over or under blocking.

Identifying cases of DNS misconfiguration: Not quite censorship

A study on a non-malicious technical issue that leads to the interference and non-accessibility of a regional news media outlet throughout several different networks and countries.

To this respect, we would like to hear from all of you who are interested in researching information controls and internet censorship, and are intrigued to better understand how to work with network measurements and analyze data from various data sources and OONI reports.

We wanted to keep this post as concrete and terse as possible to encourage both technical and non-technical entities and individuals to get in touch with us, even if they are currently engaged in an undergoing project. The results of this collaboration will help form a complete guideline handbook expressed by the needs of the communities that work, or conduct research, in this field.

Please use any of these communications channels to get in touch with us.


Vasilis Ververis is a research associate with DATACTIVE and a practitioner of the principles ~ undo / rebuild ~ the current centralization model of the internet. Their research deals with internet censorship and investigation of collateral damage via information controls and surveillance. Some recent affiliations: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; Universidade Estadual do Piaui, Brazil; University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal.


This post is co-published with the Magma Project


A year in review

2018 has been a good year for DATACTIVE. We take the opportunity of the turn of the year to review what we accomplished and what remains to do.

We advanced with data collection, and are almost done. Just to mention one, we are close to 200 interviews, and the material is extremely rich.

We organized two exciting events, the July workshop and the Big Data from the South, and a hackaton.

Collectively we delivered over 40 talks.
We published a dozen between papers and book chapters, including an article for Policy & Internet, two for the International Journal of Communication (here and here), three contributions in a special issue of XRDS on anonymity. We released a special issue on data activism of the peer-reviewed journal Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy. Many more contributions are in print. In January alone, an article on the consequences of engaging with data will appear on First Monday; a collective book chapter will be released in the context of the collection on Good Data; the special issue of the journal Policy & Internet on internet architecture & human rights will see the light of day.
The DATACTIVE blog, the critical communities debate and the Big data from the South blog are thriving; our work was mentioned in several media outlets in a variety of idioms.
In July we were awarded a Proof of Concept grant of the ERC to work on the Algorithms Exposed project (ALEX). Stay tuned for further developments, including a brand-new website which will soon become available at the URL
And most importantly, we continued learning from each other and from the many activists we encountered during fieldwork, and we continued experimenting with a different way of doing and being academia (among others, see  here and here).

With less than two years to the end of the grant, we will now dedicate ourselves primarily to data analysis and writing. ALEX will keep some of us busy, and will allow us to expand our team hiring a couple of developers and collaborating with NGOs. To start with, next week we will seize the opportunity of the forthcoming of the Digital Methods Winter School to advance with software development. We can anticipate we will use the forthcoming EU Parliament election as one of our test cases, so if you are interested in collaborating to a research on the effects of algorithmic personalisation please get in touch.

Yours truly, the DATACTIVE team
Photo: CovaContro

Civic resistance to environmental failures from the South (of the North…): The AnalyzeBasilicata initiative

By Anna Berti Suman – Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT)


During the Workshop ‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’, we discussed how the ‘South’ is much more than a geographical connotation. The South exists every time a person is discriminated, basic services are denied, surveillance is secretly performed at the expenses of those at the margins, land, but also data, are grabbed for the sake of profit, people are forced to daily live with environmental contamination, and so on. In this sense, maybe the South is not geographical at all, if we think that all these situations can well occur in the North as in the South of the world. This contribution tells a story ‘from the South’: the South of Italy (yet a country generally considered as part of ‘the North’), and a situation embedding the South through denial of rights and resource appropriation. But it also tells a story of hope, of civic resistance that can make a change, speaking to individuals, collectives, and even to institutions, with a tireless critique of the status-quo.

The case is that of ‘AnalyzeBasilicata’ (in Italian ‘Analizziamo la Basilicata’), founded in 2015 by the Italian association ‘COVA Contro’ and aimed at tackling the environmental mismanagements in a Southern Italian region, Basilicata, known for having a 40% of the population at risk of poverty. The region is also sadly known as “the Italian Texas” for the intense oil exploitation and its incidence on local residents. The ‘AnalyzeBasilicata’ initiative started as a campaign and quickly obtained a vast social uptake, manifested in the generous financial support from concerned citizens. Through crowdfunding, AnalyzeBasilicata managed to buy the necessary instruments to collect sample in numerous areas of the region and run chemical tests at the premises of Accredia, the Italian single body for scientific accreditation. The results of the test fuelled investigations that were subsequently published on the online magazine Basilicata24. The initiative currently strives to make publicly accessible the data from the measurements on its website as well as the sources of funding to support such measurements. In addition, the organization has barely any organizational structure, devoting all the resources obtained from crowd-funding to the measurements.

brazilitica 2
Photo: Basilicata24

The collective’s workflow is structured as follow: when the AnalyzeBasilicata team identify an environmental problem, they run a cross-check or alterative measuring on the interested area; if they find a discrepancy between the official data and their measurements, they either first publish the news on their blog and then file a formal notification to the competent environmental agency or to the public prosecutor office, or, in alternative, they first notify the problem to the relevant institutions and then reach the public.  The choice of one or the other strategy depends on the matter at issue, its sensitivity and public concern. In general, the response from the concerned citizens is higher than the interest and follow-up from the responsible institutions [1]. The collective works either spontaneously or in response to a request from a group of concerned citizens. Rarely, they are approached by institutions requesting measurements [2]. The individuals running the tests are, for the majority, not experts in environmental monitoring. However, they trained themselves, and benefit from the help of experts on how to collect sampling and analyse data [3].

Examples of the actions launched by the COVA Contro Association and AnalyzeBasilicata regard to the correlation between the ENI and INGV extractive operations in the region and the seismic status of Val d’Agri, Basilicata. The collective interestingly mentioned the Aarhus Convention when denouncing the lack of transparency and public participation on the matter to the Italian environmental protection agency, ISPRA, to the Italian anti-corruption agency, ANAC, to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and to the National Anti-Mafia Directorate. The reliance of the local collective’s discourse on entitlements deriving from an international legal body is particularly relevant as it demonstrates how the local needs to ‘rely on the global’ to strengthen its arguments, yet resting strongly grounded in the local dimension.

Another timely intervention of the collective is represented by the analysis performed in the area of Policoro, Basilicata, where the civic monitoring, originally looking for traces of trihalomethanes in drinking water (which were instead found under threshold), discovered traces of two halogenated compounds that are recognized to have carcinogenic effects. The tests were run as cross-check of those performed by the competent authorities. The organization lamented the unfulfilled duty of public authorities to ensure that drinking water are preserved free from pollutants, thus including not only the substances provided by the Italian legislative decree 31/2001 but all substances possibly noxious to human health. This way the collective showed to be aware of the legal framework and to ground its claim on institutionally recognized legal entitlements, partially covered by the right to live in a healthy environment. The organization demanded a legal intervention by asking for the definition of clear maximum thresholds for the presence of the toxic carcinogenic compounds in drinking water. This approach is also particularly noteworthy as it shows that civic resistance still need to ‘use’ the system, while resisting it, and the appeal to legal provisions seems a way to find a form of recognition in the establishment.

Photo: CovaContro
Photo: CovaContro

The founder of AnalyzeBasilicata, Giorgio Santoriello [4], affirmed that the trigger for the launch of the initiative was the distrust towards the data provided (often scarce or difficult to access) by the environmental agency responsible for the territory. Santoriello described how the agency was unequipped and lacking personnel. From a first stage of ‘shadowing’ what the agency was doing to monitor the environmental conditions of the area, they started performing the monitoring themselves, comparing the two and identifying discrepancies. The first accreditation, according to Santoriello, was the social support from the concerned citizens through financial support and follow-up on media. Despite being critical towards the established way of environmental monitoring in Basilicata, the collective has always been willing to cooperate with the prosecutor offices, environmental agencies and politicians to shed light on the malfunctions of the environmental governance system in the region. This ‘open’ approach is also worth of reflection: the collective challenges the system, but it is ready to engage in a dialogue with established institutions in view of the ultimate goal, i.e. the improvement of environmental protection in Basilicata.

Despite relying on legal norms, Santoriello seemed to suggest that the laws on transparency and public accountability, as well as those on civic access to environmental information and participation in environmental decision-making, are insufficient to concretely enforce citizens’ rights. First, they would be too soft, not providing for actual sanctions. Second, their enforcement in courts would require high financial resources that often citizens’ organizations lack. Thirdly, they are often applicable only in cases of plain violations, and not in the daily subtler instances of citizen’s misinformation or of inaccessible information. Santoriello identifies in citizen-run technologies a light of hope to tackle the problem of poor environmental monitoring or hidden environmental data. He considers nowadays more pressing than in the past the need to use technology to draw the link between environmental pollutants and human health. Santoriello stresses the centrality of having ‘doubting’ citizens that crosscheck the environmental information received as a way to improve environmental monitoring, to ensure the respect of fundamental rights and to promote accountability.

Overall, this accountability outcome seems resulting of a combination of the following elements: distrust towards environmental (mis)management generates a civic initiative based on citizen-run technologies; the collective gains credibility (activists obtain scientific accreditation for their measurements); by cross-checking institutional data, the group manages to demonstrate substantial deviation from a proper environmental management; the collective obtains attention of larger sections of society; they justify their actions based on norms but simultaneously discard them; ultimately, though just a ‘drop in the ocean’, a push towards more transparency and accountability is activated.



Anna Berti Suman – is a PhD researcher at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (The Netherlands), investigating forms of environmental monitoring ‘from below’. Anna has work and research experience in environmental crimes (Ecuador) and water conflicts (Chile); Anna is pro-bono environmental lawyer for Greenpeace International.

 You can reach her at:



[1] Call performed on September 24, 2018, with the founder of ‘AnalyzeBasilicata’, Giorgio Santoriello.

[2] Ibidem.

[3] Ibidem.

[4] Ibidem.



Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

Lonneke on Open Sourcing Open Source Intelligence

In late September, I gave a talk in which she considered the connections between Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and data activism at the ‘DIGITAL CULTURES: Knowledge / Culture / Technology’ conference at Leuphana University Lüneburg. The presentation asked how OSINT might be understood through the prism of ‘data activist epistemologies’ (Milan and Van der Velden 2016).

The starting point for this interrogation is that Open Source Intelligence, despite its name, appears to have little in common with ‘open source’ cultures as we know them, for example through open source technologies. Open Source Intelligence simply means intelligence, for states or businesses, that is gathered from ‘open’ or publicly available sources. The initial question in the paper is, thus, one of terminology: What is really ‘open source’ about OSINT? And how might a critical interrogation of ‘open source’ change the way we think about OSINT? Hence the title of the talk: ‘Open Sourcing Open Source Intelligence’.

As a type of data activism, open source can be described as having its associated ‘epistemic culture’. This is a concept which refers to the diversity in modes of knowledge-making. ‘Epistemic culture’ originally comes from studies into scientific practices, and it directs attention to the ‘specific strategies that generate, validate, and communicate scientific accomplishments’ (Knorr-Cetina and Reichmann 2015, 873). It guides one’s focus toward the complex ‘relationships between experts, organisational formats, and epistemic objects’ (ibid. 873-4).

What we encounter in open source cultures is that knowledge is not legitimated institutionally, but technologically: the (open source) software function as a token of trust. The knowledge is legitimated because the software and the verification model can be reviewed, the methods are shared publicly, many of the findings are publicly shared, public learning is crucial and, ideally, expertise thus becomes distributed.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), by contrast, is a practice that seems to belong to – and to be legitimated by – formal and relatively closed institutions such as intelligence agencies. Yet the label can usefully be reclaimed to describe activist projects – such as the Syrian Archive – which seek to put open source tools and principles in the service of a different kind of knowledge-making, one that is genuinely public-oriented and collective. The question thus becomes: What can we learn from the interface between OSINT and open source? What kind of knowledge is being made, how? And how might activist forms of OSINT inform our understanding of data activism broadly speaking?

Stay tuned for the forthcoming paper, which is being co-authored with Jeff Deutch from the Syrian Archive. It will no doubt be enriched by a good discussion with the conference audience.

The abstract for the talk is available through the full conference programme (pp. 215-6).


Lonneke van der Velden is postdoctoral researcher with DATACTIVE and a lecturer at the department of media studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research deals with internet surveillance and activism. She is part of the editorial board of Krisis, Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, and is on the Board of Directors of Bits of Freedom.   



Knorr Cetina, Karin, and Werner Reichmann (2015) Epistemic cultures, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, ed. James D. Wright. Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 873-880.

Milan, Stefania, and Lonneke Van der Velden (2016) The Alternative Epistemologies of Data Activism. Digital Culture & Society 2(2) pp. 57-74.