2 November: Thoughts on privacy and security

"WHOIS was created in ancient times; those days people would let their online friends know who they are" as we heard at one of the panels from an expert on domain names registries. The IGF discussions in the track of privacy and security made me go back in memories to my own early online days. These were not that early from a global perspective, I guess. However, for civil society in the Czech Republic early enough. In 1996, I registered a domain name under .cz in order to start a women's rights website. The only one at those times. The desire behind starting such a website was to publish information that was too expensive to publish in traditional ways. Also to overcome prejudices of media at that time due to which they were failing to spread out information among women about their rights in situations of discrimination, oppression, and violence. The website became a feminist information cross-roads pretty much right away. We had sections on culture and art, lesbian women, child-care, health, law, workplace, sex, statistics, etc.


I never thought of any danger connected to signing the domain registration with my name and address. For me internet was a communication tool without almost any physical connotation. I thought that the distance between me and the users is very safe and I can regulate it quite well by answering or not answering to certain emails. That is also why I have never thought of anonymity and signed all text with my name and email address.


Soon after the website launch I started getting all kinds of emails. Mostly reactions from women, requests for more information, thank yous, personal stories. A decent part of that correspondence was also coming from opponents. Mostly man, who felt the need to express their disagreement. Most of their emails were long and full of arguments (why should women stay at home and forget about their ambitions at work, why it is natural for women to do so and so, why talking violence is a nonsense because this and that, why our website is all bad). I was always amazed by the effort of these people to write their long letters and in most cases I would engage myself in email exchanges with them explaining feminist positions and providing facts.


I was also getting emails full of hatred. Naive enough, I never thought of a physical danger connected with these letters. The computer screen was a secure separator from them in my thinking.


At the panel about Privacy Anriette mentioned that she let one of the APC members use her name for registering a domain. Someone who hated the contents of that website, found this registration data and threatened her over email: I know where you live, I'm coming to kill you.


I had slight shivers when she was talking about this. Imaging how public I used to be and how things I said and represented provoked certain groups and individuals. Looking back I think it was good to do it and needed - for myself, for the work I was doing, for the organisation, and the overall climate in the society. Not thinking about protection was probably helpful.


Nowadays the Czech internet is far richer in terms of women's rights websites and all kinds of feminist materials. Also the attitude of media, institutions, and women themselves changed a lot. Women's organisations can be much more open and direct in their public demands. But they also have new challenges to face in the area of online communication. They should not maintain our tech-naivety and not-knowing of those early times! I once heard a story about a blogger who was documenting his suicidal efforts live online. Someone was reading his lines and after a while felt a strong need to help this human being and rescue him from killing himself. In a bit, this blogger was found and physically contacted based on his IP address. He was sitting there in his room just joking, not wanting to kill himself, just testing out the online space for reactions. Such stories make me think of how real our virtual presence is. Are women aware of this???

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