The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
With the rapid growth and reliance on technology for communication, community, resistance and love, comes the increase in the weaponization of tech against those most marginalized and disenfranchised. With this, we see in daily instances the impact of tech on historically oppressed and marginalized groups, especially as this tech is rarely, if ever, designed with them in mind. But, are there ways to reimagine how we design these technologies, away from “diversity and inclusivity” models, where technology is created by centering, not only including, those at the margins: By centering those most impacted from ideation to production, rather than attempting to address their needs after the products have been created. This event launches Design from the Margins (DFM), a guide and call for action on how to conduct the development and design processes from a human impact perspective by focusing on cases seen as “extremes”, “outliers” and “edge cases”. The goal of this framework is to reduce harms and human rights abuses carried through the weaponization of tech -- and increase protections. It is a method established on existing implementation and impact.
With an understanding of who is most impacted by social, political and legal frameworks – often the most criminalized – we can also understand who is most likely to be a victim of the weaponization of certain technologies: these are the decentered cases we must make central in all of our communication technology processes if we have any chance of mitigating immense tech-related harms proliferating around the world. This event brings together experts to look at the effects of technology in contexts it was not designed for, especially how western-centrism impacts vulnerable and/or hard-to-reach communities and suggest methods such as Design From the Margins as a vital way to mitigate risks.
On this panel, TAPP fellow Afsaneh Rigot, Director of Grindr for Equality Jack Harrison-Quintana, WhatsApp Policy Manager Kathryn Harnett, and Assistant Director or Harvard’s Cyberlaw Clinic and Board member of the Global Network Initiative, Jessica Fjeld discuss the findings of the newly released Digital Crime Scenes: The Role of Digital Evidence in the Persecution of LGBTQ People in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia and the Design From the Margins methodology by Afsaneh Rigot. The session is moderated by Kendra Albert, clinical instructor at the Cyberlaw Clinic.
The Digital Crime Scenes report documents decentered cases and the ways in which evidence from our major technologies (including WhatsApp and Grindr) have been used by law enforcement in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia against LGBTQ people - for monitoring, arrests, torture, and prosecutions. An operationalized system has been used to prosecute private, intimate, and delicate parts of life, such as sexual identity by combining manual policing with new technologies. Impacted communities and legal defense teams inundated with such cases are calling for harm reduction methods to keep those most marginalized safer by reducing the amount of evidence that can be amassed against people.
Grindr and WhatsApp have already commenced implementing changes based on recommendations from this report and previous work in line with DFM, because when those most marginalized are designed for, all will benefit. Can we go further, and can other corporate actors center needs of their most marginalized, especially those outside EU/US as opposed to their “main use cases”?