Thanks to Big Brother, we've all got data issues. But queer-feminist hacker bangiebangs tells us how we can stick our middle digits to The Man and reclaim our privacy online
Jun. 14 – bangiebangs (real name Angie, age 34) is a community organizer with Femme Hive and previously as part of the Salon 4 at Vierte Welt. She is currently involved with the Institute for Queer Theory (celebrating their tenth anniversary June 24 at Ballhaus Berlin) and is in the planning stages of co-founding a queer-feminist hackspace. bangiebangs has conducted research on sexual and digital ethics and more recently has become an encryption enthusiast, using PGP to secure her emails and Tor for anonymous web browsing. In relation to our June cover story on online activism, she spoke to Joey Hansom about the importance of digital privacy and the crossover between Berlin's queer and hacker scenes.
Why should someone who's not, say, a terrorist or an investigative journalist care about encryption?
Basically, I would suggest that people think about the things they send online. If you're using Grindr or OkCupid and sending naked pictures. If you're using Gmail, every email automatically gets scanned so that Google can show you targeted ads.
As Snowden says, “Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” Think about how everything you do online, where you go, where your phone logs you in – all these things get collected. That's a tremendous amount of data. Do you really want your text messages about where to find drugs for the weekend to be easily searchable? At this point, everything text-based is searchable, and there are now engines that can listen to everything and immediately transcribe it to searchable text. Maybe you think doesn't matter in this moment, but down the road things might change. Right now in Berlin, we are in a good place to be leisurely with our data. Maybe no one gives a shit now, but some point in the future, things could change politically, and who knows who will decide to go and access your data?
Once it's there, it's there forever.
Exactly. If someone walked up to you on the street and asked to read your emails, or to show you a photo of your little sister, or to tell them what kind of porn you watched last night, you wouldn't do that. But you are leaving that information online. The internet makes it so easy to connect with other people and tell them what we are doing – it's very handy – but we don't have a collective awareness of this very valuable data and why privacy is important.
How can someone who's interested in all of this find out more?
There's a project based in Berlin called Tactical Tech, and they have a website called Security in a Box, which has tutorials for everything. You can also get free training on online privacy at a CryptoParty. These independently run workshops take place throughout the city, usually at least once per week. CryptoParties are a bit problematic, though, because of their structure: they must be open for everyone, which is something that is not for everyone. But there is also the option for a “Wohnzimmer-CryptoParty”: you can send them email to ask for someone to come to your home to show you how to set up encryption. And you can request a woman, for example. We've even had CryptoParties especially for sex workers, who have specific problems and need specific solutions. But a regular CryptoParty can be filled with straight, white bros who aren't aware of queer-feminist issues. This is part of the reason why I am aiming to set up a queer hackspace.
Berlin has a strong crypto scene as well as a vibrant queer scene. You're active in both – is there any more overlap?
To me personally, they are separate. I have my queer bubble and my hacker bubble. But, for example, for the past two years at the annual CCC Congress, there's been an assembly called Queer Feminist Geeks. There, you realize just how many of the developers, political activists and artists are queer. But I don't feel that they openly claim this identity so much. One of the few big names who mentions it, in passing, sometimes, is Jacob Appelbaum. But as the last weeks have shown, being queer alone doesn't mean you should automatically be a role model, as he has been accused of a variety of abusive behaviors by people within the privacy community, and there has been a huge discussion about this. Some organizations have reacted quickly, others are less willing to be clear about consequences. But the situation has sparked a discussion about sexism, abuse, and how we as a community should deal with abusive individuals in our midst.
It seems like most of the big names in this international crypto/privacy thing, aside from Chelsea Manning, are men.
The women involved are very much not visible. For example, when you think of the Snowden revelations, who helped him get the word out? The first person you think of is Glenn Greenwald, because he published it. But what most people don't know is that Laura Poitras is the one who taught him how to use encryption so that he could get in touch with this anonymous person who wanted to leak documents. Later, they went together to meet him, Edward Snowden. That's how the film Citizenfour got made.
If you think of WikiLeaks, you think of Julian Assange, which I think is unbelievably unfortunate, because he is a really, really problematic character. Often forgotten is one of the people who does a lot of fucking work for WikiLeaks, Sarah Harrison – who also lives in Berlin – but most people have never even heard her name. She is the legal side of WikiLeaks. She stayed with Snowden in the Moscow airport for six weeks. All the women in the story disappear.
Interview: Joey Hansom