Index Freedom of Expression Awards: Digital activism nominee Tails

Awards TAILS

The Incognoto Amnesiac Live Operating System (TAILS) is an open-source encryption tool that can help protect the free online communication of journalists and sources in any country, regardless of official limits on free expression.

Tails was developed by a global network of individuals, working in international obscurity, united in their dedication to protecting the security of computer users. This is a vital service to journalists and activists working in the NSA era and closed societies, where authorities rely heavily on censorship and tracking of online activity to clamp down on dissent.

Tails is an operating system, much like Windows and Mac OS, and can be used by anyone, anywhere, without having to have substantial technical knowledge. A member of the anonymous group behind the creation of Tails  spoke with Alice Kirkland about their nomination and why online security is not just a requirement for journalists and hackers.

Index: How does it feel to be nominated for the Index on Censorship digital activism award and why do you think Tails was nominated?

Tails: It is an honour to be on the list of nominees. Especially after all that happened this year! We find it interesting to see a free software project in such a list. I think Tails was nominated because we are the safest operating system available for online anonymity and digital activists. This was even acknowledged by the NSA itself.

Index: What is the importance of internet security and how has this changed over recent months?

Tails: The fact is that in our modern world our communications are inevitably more and more mediated by digital technologies. On the other hand, the characteristics of digital communications as well as the way the internet is built create a very interesting challenge: it is relatively easy to spy on people on the internet, but it is also relatively easy to defeat this spying by using the right techniques.

I don’t think that the nature or the role of internet security changed over the recent months. The recent Snowden revelations only confirm the assumptions on which our work is based. What really changed is the public awareness regarding those issues. It is now hard to deny that internet security has to do with politics and not only with technology.

Index: Do you think journalists should have access to different online security options than the general public?

Tails: I don’t think so. We all need efficient tools to protect our communications online whether you are a journalist, an activist, a hacker, or a layperson. Recent events, from the Snowden revelations to the Arab Spring, proved that the boundaries between those roles are actually being challenged by the way people use the internet.

Furthermore, from a more technical point of view, anonymity tools like Tor need a wide range of users in order to protect the anonymity of every one of them. Tor is being used equally by dissident bloggers, privacy concerned citizens, whistleblowers, businesses, victims of intimate partner abuse, and even military and law enforcement agencies.

Anonymity loves company.

Index: What was the thought process behind Tails and how has the software evolved over time?

Tails: The first version of Tails announced on our website dates back from June 23, 2009. Our vision was to create a toolbox for computer security that would be easy to use and hard to misuse. The challenge was to combine very good security by default while being accessible to a large public.

Since then, we released 34 versions of Tails and we have been really successful. In 2013, our approximate number of users was multiplied by 2.5. Today, someone is starting Tails every 10 seconds somewhere in the world.

Just to give an example, all connections to the internet are forced to go through the Tor network without having to configure anything. I think that we share the same target audience as the people who are using the Tor network.

The main function of tails is to hide the location of internet users.

Index: What other features does Tails have for its users?

Tails: For us online anonymity is only one of the major aspects of Tails:

– Online anonymity. All connections to the Internet are forced to go through Tor or I2P, which is the second anonymity network available in Tails.

– Amnesia. Tails runs from a DVD or USB stick and by default leaves no trace on the computer that you are using. This allows you to use Tails almost anywhere and also prevents you from leaving traces of sensitive data on computers.

– Cryptography toolbox. Tails provides a selection of state-of-the-art cryptographic tools to encrypt your files, emails and instant messaging, selected for their security features and ease of use.

Index: What role does freedom of expression have to play in the debate surrounding online privacy and where do you see the future of this?

Tails: Tools such as Tails or Tor relate to both online privacy (private communications), and freedom of expression (opinions expressed publicly). For example, Tails can be vital to both an activist writing a dissident blog, and a victim of intimate partner abuse communicating with her lawyer. In this case, the actual technology used to protect both freedom of expression and privacy on the internet is the same.

Still, the recent leaks proved that freedom of expression is a central mechanism in bringing those issues to the public debate and making clear they are political issues, and not merely technical issues.

Index: Online privacy and the NSA received a lot of media coverage over the past year. Would Tails have come about if it wasn’t for the likes of WikiLeaks & Edward Snowden?

Tails: As our record of releases proves, Tails existed before the NSA leaks, and even before the major WikiLeaks releases in 2010. I think that in this recent history, the tools and the way they are being used have a symbiotic relationship. Recent whistleblowers probably used online security tools such as Tor and Tails. In turn, the consequent media coverage and public interest provides us with a social context that is positive for the further development of our tools.

Index Freedom of Expression Awards
#indexawards2014 The nominees are…

Nominees: Advocacy | Arts | Digital Activism | Journalism

Join us 20 March 2014 at the Barbican Centre for the Freedom of Expression Awards

This article was posted on March 17, 2014 at

Index Freedom of Expression Awards: Arts nominee Mayam Mahmoud

Rapper Mayam Mahmoud uses hip-hop to address issues such as sexual harassment and to stand up for women’s rights in Egypt.

Women played a significant role in the demonstrations that eventually toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In the aftermath, however, the problem of sexual harassment has become what activists now describe as “an epidemic”.

The 18-year-old rose to prominence through her appearances on the popular TV show Arabs Got Talent. Aged 12, she was introduced to poetry by her mother. She began writing her own work, which soon turned into rap — still a male dominated music genre across the world.

“It’s got a lot of people talking about whether it’s possible for a veiled girl, or even a girl, to do this,” she says. “The girls in this field are thought to have bad morals. So it’s hard to find someone to work with her, to create a beat, to master the track.”

In order to develop her own voice, Mayam tries not to listen to western Hip hop and her songs tackle harassment and victim-blaming head-on – condemning Egyptian society for accepting harassment as part of everyday life, and for laying the blame for it on women rather than men.

“I won’t be the shamed one,” she says in one of her raps. “You flirt, you harass and you see nothing wrong with it. But even if it’s just words, these are not flirts, these are stones.”

Index Freedom of Expression Awards
#indexawards2014 The nominees are…

Nominees: Advocacy | Arts | Digital Activism | Journalism

Join us 20 March 2014 at the Barbican Centre for the Freedom of Expression Awards

This article was posted on March 14, 2014 at

Index Freedom of Expression Awards: Arts nominee Lucien Bourjeily

Lucien Bourjeily openly confronted the Lebanese censorship bureau by writing a play Would It Pass Or Not? about censorship in Lebanon. The play was banned, exposing the farcical sensitivity of the censors and forcing them to justify their actions in public.

The play was produced by March – – an anti-censorship NGO of which Bourjeily is an advisory board member.

In conversation with Index, Bourjeily told of his bizarre encounters with the censor board’s general when summoned to the bureau in Beirut on 28 August.

“The play could not go ahead” he was told “because it was not realistic. It was exaggerated”. “True”, said Bourjeily, “it’s fiction. Of course it’s unrealistic and exaggerated. Otherwise it would be a documentary”.

Bourjeily recounts the general turning to his subaltern and describing scenes from the play, asking “would such a thing happen here?”, unintentionally and ironically echoing a scene in the play itself. When censors are censoring a play about censorship, things are bound to turn to farce sooner or later.

Normally, Lebanon’s censors will suggest changes to works that will allow them to pass – a joke removed here, a political remark erased there. But with Bourjeily’s play, this was apparently not going to happen.

The censors’ next move was interesting: they would show, they said, that Boujeily’s play had no artistic merit. On 3 September, General Mounir Akiki appeared on television bearing testimony from four “critics”, each of whom said the same thing; that there was no artistic value in “Would it pass or not?”

Curiously, none of these critics were named, despite their views being taken very seriously indeed. One said that Bourjeily’s play contained “a defamatory hallucination indicating the absence of his artistic level”, another that the play “was not related to the theatre, but rather with prosaic words. It does not meet the conditions regarding structure.”

Index Freedom of Expression Awards
#indexawards2014 The nominees are…

Nominees: Advocacy | Arts | Digital Activism | Journalism

Join us 20 March 2014 at the Barbican Centre for the Freedom of Expression Awards

This article was posted on 13 March 2014 at

Index Freedom of Expression Awards: Arts nominee Meltem Arikan

Awards Arikan

Turkey’s Gezi Park protests of 2013 saw a venting of frustration by many against what they saw as the increasingly authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK party.

The protests were preceded by the run of Meltem Arikan’s play ‘Mi Minor’ in Istanbul from December 2012 to April 2013. Mi Minor used role play and social media to tell the story of a pianist using technology and social media to struggle against the regime in a fictional land called Pimina. In the month after the play ended, protests erupted in Istanbul, with social media playing a key role.

Arikan, already a prominent writer, found herself accused of fomenting rebellion and faced a co-ordinated campaign of abuse online from government supporters. She recently told Index on Censorship:

“When I was researching for Mi Minor [in 2011] I did everything I could so that the play wasn’t associated with Turkey, or the particular situation of Turkish politics, or any other actual country. It was a fictional dystopia. Mi Minor is an absurd play and it is too worrying to see how absurdity can be accused of being responsible for the reality of what happened in Gezi Park.”

“And the most worrying thing is that these accusations are still on-going. I wrote an absurd play and now my life has become more absurd than my play.”

Forced to flee because of the resulting pressures, Meltem Arikan now lives in the United Kingdom. She spoke with Index on Censorship about her nomination and the future of her work.