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Posted 23 December, 2011 by Susannah Vila

What #Occupy Reveals about the Mobile Applications for Activism Space

Last week, I posted a round-up of new technologies which have emerged from the many exciting efforts for social and political change that took shape in 2011. In the engine room back channel, we’ve been discussing the impact of the Occupy movement, specifically, on new technologies and (even more specifically) on mobile phones. How has Occupy impacted the way activists are using mobile phones?

The most prominent repercussions may lie in increased awareness about the dangers of carrying a phone when you’re doing anything that may get you arrested. Yet, awareness notwithstanding, as newer and sexier smart phones emerge the options for activists looking to keep data like recent calls and contacts away from prying eyes remain slim. One notable exception to this is a growing effort to equip Androids with tools that scrape sensitive data from it with the press of a button.

There are two such applications on the market right now. One, “Help! I Got Arrested,” was created by a developer shop called Quadrant 2. The other, “In the Clear,” was created by The Guardian Project and MobileActive.Org’s Safer Mobile project (Disclaimer! Both Guardian and MobileActive are on our Advisory Board and our own Alix Dunn is a Safer Mobile consultant). What’s the difference?

With “Help! I Got Arrested!,” you’re supposed to open the app and press a bulls eye button as you’re being thrown into a paddy wagon. This sends out a message to notify friends that you’re okay, and maybe get them to call a lawyer if that’s an option. It’s only available on Android and in English (which makes sense for now since it emerged from #Occupy in the United States).

In the Clear is also available on Blackberries and most Nokias, and in Arabic, Farsi and Chinese. But the most substantive difference between the two is that In the Clear lets you completely wipe the data off of your phone rather than just send out an emergency message. Also, In the Clear allows you to do so remotely, from a home screen short cut or a totally separate operating system from a home screen shortcut or remotely via a third party app called Tasker.

One of the big challenges plaguing the field of technology development for activism right now is that not everyone knows who else is doing what, where and when. This can lead to an often unnecessary duplication of resources. My guess is that Quadrant 2 whipped up their app in a short time in order to address a pressing need.

A great feat, but was it a waste considering that In the Clear was already widely available? Or, on the other hand, is “Help! I Got Arrested,” a necessary addition to the landscape of available tools because of its comparative ease of use? There is something to be said for a tool which has no learning curve and does not require any training – often there is no time for either.

2 thoughts on “What #Occupy Reveals about the Mobile Applications for Activism Space”

Ian says:

If you have your phone password protected do the police need a warrant to get you to reveal the password to search it?

Maybe the resources of the two app teams would be better put to use if they all worked together to improve the one app or better yet an open source app should be put out there for code savvy activists to work on collectively.

Hi Ian,

To your first question, this varies by state (EFF produced a report called “Know Your Rights” which aims to answer these types of questions – https://www.eff.org/wp/know-your-rights).

This is a great article from Jan ’11 in ArsTechnica describing CA Supreme Court ruling allowing warrantless search of mobile phones, your rights to protecting your password, and recommendations for keeping your mobile data from search. (http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/guides/2011/01/why-you-should-always-encrypt-your-smartphone.ars)

As for your second point – we agree. InTheClear is open source (https://github.com/SaferMobile/InTheClear) and we welcome collaboration.

Becky
safermobile.org

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