Welcome to Security in-a-Box Community Focus: digital security tools and tactics for the LGBTI community in sub-Saharan Africa.
Security in-a-box is a collaborative effort of the Tactical Technology Collective and Front Line Defenders. It was created to meet the digital security and privacy needs of advocates and human rights defenders. Security in-a-box includes a How-to Booklet, which addresses a number of important digital security issues. It also provides a collection of Hands-on Guides, each of which includes a particular freeware or open source software tool, as well as instructions on how you can use that tool to secure your computer, protect your information or maintain the privacy of your Internet communication.
This Community Focus edition is part of a series of guides which aim to further integrate digital security into the context of particular communities and human rights defenders. This edition was created in particular for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* and Intersex individuals and human rights defenders in the sub-Saharan region in Africa. It was preceded by a similar guide for the Arabic-speaking LGBTI community, and includes some of the same content. Both guides were written in collaboration with human rights defenders from the community.
The guide includes:
Part I - Context
In most sub-Saharan African countries, LGBTI persons are still far from gaining social recognition. Despite the various social and cultural differences within the region, silence remains a factor that prevails whenever such taboo issues as homosexuality or trans identity are broached.
In recent years, LGBTI persons have indeed become more visible and active in the public sphere. Nonetheless, the State and society all too often force them back “into the closet” with threats of ostracization, harassment, physical violence and even death. Generally, LGBTI persons are still deemed to be at best non-existent, and at worst cursed, possessed, deviant, immoral, abnormal and diseased. With homosexual acts directly criminalized in most countries in the region, in some of which one can face the death penalty, it is already difficult for LGBTI persons to come out, be visible, live out their identities or fight for their rights. While these laws are often ineffective and are not used systematically to prosecute individuals, the social and cultural condemnations of homosexuality remain the biggest threat for LGBTI communities across the region.
In view of the aforementioned context, the Internet has emerged as a viable option for LGBTI persons to gain visibility, communicate, network, and express what one cannot express in public. Social networks, blogging platforms and forums have become, in most African countries, the only spaces where LGBTI persons can have a voice, organize themselves, formulate their discourses around their issues and fight for recognition.
However, authorities and other opponents of LGBTI rights have endeavored to keep up with this change. The Ugandan parliament introduced a bill initially prescribing the death penalty for same sex relationships while the Nigerian parliament prescribed a 14 year prison sentence for same sex relationships and 10 years for LGBTI activists or those who witness civil unions and same-sex marriages. These incidents drew regional and international attention and constituted a pivotal point for LGBTI activists and individuals in the region.
In the years following the proposal of the bills, Uganda had the first ever pride parade, queer Nigerians went to the legislature to defend their rights and groups, blogs and websites started springing up to defend LGBTI rights. Within the same timeline, a man was arrested in Cameroon for sending an SMS text message to another man that said “I am very much in love with you”; another was charged in Uganda with “trafficking obscene publications” because his stolen laptop contained gay porn. A gay man from Sierra Leone was attacked after he visited a gay site from an internet café, and young men in Nigeria formed ‘punishment clubs’ where they engage gay men on social networks and dating sites to extort, and blackmail their victims. These incidents started to expose the pitfalls of the Internet and the many insecurities and problems that come with its use for a community who at the same time feel liberated by it.
Social networks and dating websites remain a common way of targeting LGBTI persons, through accessing their personal pages (blogs, email addresses, Facebook or Twitter accounts); using their information and at times pictures to blackmail or 'out' them to their families, and setting up fake accounts, by police and others, to ambush LGBTI persons and ultimately arrest, threaten and scandalize them. The insecurities of information on the Internet are considerable in number, and despite the recent increase in awareness about the dangers of insecure usage of the Internet, access to the most practical solutions that could ensure digital safety for LGBTI users remains limited.
Consequently, there is an increasing and dire need for both knowledge of the most recent methods and tools for digital security, as well as a stronger ethos of caution and care in our online activities, through which LGBTI persons and human rights defenders could ensure their online privacy, circumvent governmental censorship and threats, and protect their information, personal pages, profiles and websites from being hacked, accessed, and ultimately used against them.
There is an inherent tension between the desire to claim one's rights openly and publically, and the desire to act cautiously and work out of the public eye. It is ultimately a personal decision to select a comfortable point in this range. However, we do believe that in all cases there is great value in studying security tactics to protect yourself, your colleagues, and your community.
With that in mind, we have created this guide in order to help contextualise digital security threats for LGBTI persons and human rights defenders from sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the tools and tactics that can be used for overcoming them.
The guide, which was designed and written in collaboration with the community it is intended to assist, serves an introduction to Tactical Technology Collective and Front Line Defenders' Security in-a-Box toolkit for human rights defenders and expands upon its content to include important contextual information, tools and tips particularly relevant to the LGBTI community, as identified by members of the community in workshops and other interactions in 2013 and 2014. The aim of the toolkit is to make the issue of digital security clearer and easier to understand and implement in the personal and professional context of LGBTI individuals from the region.