One topic that was always neglected at DiEM25 is cyber security, digital self-defense, or as it was called at DiEM25: Technological Sovereignty. The movement communicated in unencrypted WhatsApp and Telegram groups, with unencrypted emails, in the video conferencing software Zoom, in Google Docs and Facebook groups. The critics of those bad practices were, of course, white, educated and computer-savvy nerds who annoyed everyone with their constant criticism. Since even the nerds couldn’t agree on a gold standard, Telegram settled in as a quasi-standard, even though group chat doesn’t offer an option for encryption.
When we raised our concerns, we often got the answer that our conversations were usually harmless and uninteresting for secret services and the like. Or that the movement would have to grow first and then we would have money for secure alternatives of our own. Requests to move to an encrypted and decentralised pad, to DiEM25’s own cloud or to the secure Signal messenger were regularly met with debates on basic principals and heavy reluctance. I nonetheless strongly believe that progressive movements cannot afford such a luxury. Building and using encrypted, secure and decentralised/federated alternatives is essential for the following reasons:
1. What counts as “important” information?
It might be true that clandestine or even illegal things were rarely discussed in our conversations. But who can define what is sensitive information and what is not? For some members – e.g. public sector employees or foreigners with unclear residence status – the threshold is certainly different than for the native German with wealthy parents living in an alternative housing project. If chat histories are really being analysed (by whomsoever there are few limits to the imagination after the Edward Snowden and Cambridge Analytica scandals) then it would also be interesting for the political opponent to find out which internal conflicts hold sway over the movement, where the organisational weaknesses are, who the dominant members are and which tactics are preferred. Eventually the moment will arrive when an affinity group enters the action phase. Strategically important information emerges that can put many members in danger. The use of secure digital tools should be ubiquitous by then.