Historic asymmetry in power between governments and large corporations on the one hand and grassroots social and political movements on the other persists in the information age. Social movements newly empowered with instantaneous mass communications and social media are simultaneously threatened with ubiquitous, suspicionless surveillance. However, privacy-enhancing technologies can shift the balance of power to individuals and social movements, especially those opposing corporate and state power to overcome structural, institutional, or ideological discrimination.

This course involves a hybrid of instruction in the technical basis and practical use of privacy-enhancing online communication tools and an exploration of their utility in the context of widespread state surveillance. In active-learning in-class exercises, we will set up and understand implementations of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption for sending private emails; Off The Record (OTR) or Signal Protocol/OMEMO encryption to enable secure instant messaging; and The Onion Router (TOR) for anonymous Internet activity. Underlying security protocols will be physically dramatized in class.

In-class discussions will explore the role of privacy-enhancing online communication and digital security tools within social movement organizing. The class will explore well-documented, historic abuses of power in state-sponsored surveillance and disruption of diverse, justice-oriented social movements such as the Black Panther Party, the American Communist Party, and the American Indian Movement. For instance, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) disruption of black power and civil rights movements beginning in the 1950s will provide context for present-day abuses of power under the PATRIOT Act and PRISM-related U.S. domestic mass surveillance. Protective technologies such as encryption and other countermeasures will then be explored. In these discussions, those socially-constructed categories (such as race) used to justify state surveillance will be critically examined. To provide comparative international context, we will also explore the possibilities of unchecked mass surveillance and Internet censorship in authoritarian states. Throughout, students will complete writing assignments to reflect on surveillance-enabled abuses of state power and how secure communications technologies might limit these.

Students will complete a major project featuring an in-class presentation and a written or recorded component to demonstrate and explain to their peers a privacy-enhancing online communication tool and discuss the social-movement context in which the tool could be useful.

Course materials include a laptop computer (Debian-based GNU/Linux, MacOSX 10.11+, or Windows 7+), primary sources, scholarly articles, book chapters, and films.