Latin America is going through a period of uncertainty marked by deep social discontent and an accelerated and opaque tide of social and political changes as a result of the health emergency.

In 2019, countries such as Chile, Colombia or Mexico were experiencing turbulent moments where, through social protest, improvements and expansion of rights were demanded. Thousands of people joined their efforts trying to transform the social order and demanding solutions to structural problems such as corruption or violence.

However, 2020 arrived and the citizen action to which we were accustomed simply ceased to be possible. Although we have seen that protests against racism and police abuse have emerged in Mexico, Brazil, or outside the region, the pandemic health emergency has curtailed citizens' rights and increased the powers of rulers to monitor, control and, in many cases, legislate by decree.

National and local governments are adopting new technologies and data management systems to cope with the public health emergency and general economic trauma, increasing reliance on data-driven systems to track diseases and profile the population. The rates of expansion of COVID-19 limited not only the gathering of people in the streets and collective action, but also confined citizens to the digital space, a mostly private, guarded and opaque domain.

These changes are not temporary or inconsequential, but they radically change the way we understand the effective exercise of human and political rights. It is perhaps our daily life that is already beginning to accept this "new normal". We have turned to virtuality for work, school, activism and everyday relationships.

But the digitization of social interactions raises questions from civil society due to the false dilemma that the actions of many governments face: that of health or privacy.

This occurs due to the undemocratic way in which social relations have been configured in the digital sphere. For this reason, controlling and facing the health crisis through technology has accentuated inequalities and has presented us with urgent challenges to reconfigure a digital space that serves democracy.

One of them is to recognize the Internet as a public space that we inhabit and that allows us to exercise rights and freedoms: such as freedom of expression, assembly, privacy. Also, the question arises whether the Internet is currently a democratic space and identify what conditions endanger our democratic life in digital spaces.

If we are aiming for the "new normal", what structural changes do we need to extrapolate to the digital realm?

What discourses, ideas and conceptions about technology hinder or threaten an Internet of rights and freedoms that allows collective action and citizen participation?

There is no more urgent time to reconfigure the prevailing narratives or discourses on the Internet and democracy and propose alternatives that point in another direction. However, the participation of civil society in the debates on digital rights is still limited to a few organizations, so it is vital to add diverse voices, from environmentalism, gender struggles, the defense of human rights, and many others.

These are some of the discourses that we see being reproduced with the current health crisis and for which we propose other paths for a common good.

  • Today the Internet is seen as “an unreal world” (example: the real world vs. the digital world).

We propose to recognize the internet as a public space that we share and inhabit. The web is also a real space, with tangible impacts on our lives.

  • The use of the Internet and digital technologies has mostly turned to business and propaganda. This has opened the door to increased government surveillance and censorship of dissenting voices. Currently the Internet and the tracking that allows digital activity are used by authoritarian governments to exercise control and repression.

Let us defend the Internet as a common good, as a space to affirm and defend rights and collective action. We defend digital technologies as tools that support processes of social change, organization, meeting and participation. Let's defend an Internet that strengthens democracy!

  • A few large players have the monopoly to define how the networks and systems we use work, how we interact, what we see, what content is privileged.

But we all create content and socio-digital relationships, identities and new ways of thinking/doing through these systems. We are not simple users, a good part of our democratic life happens right there. It is therefore necessary to make the management of these systems more democratic and open.

  • Digital technologies are seen as a solution to all kinds of problems.

However, it is essential to subject the implementation of new technologies to democratic deliberation. Involving? How do they work? What are the related risks? Who do they benefit and who do they harm? How are they made more beneficial? Are they really necessary?

  • Surveillance seems to be justified on the grounds that "I have nothing to hide."

We believe that democracy and privacy are closely related. A healthy democracy depends on the interaction of autonomous individuals. Individual autonomy depends on having privacy. Defending the Internet as a space where privacy matters to us benefits all of society.

  • Currently there is a discourse of "internet savagery" where violence is normalized and its impact is minimized.

It is important not to normalize digital violence as part of Internet interactions, recognizing that it has real impact on people's lives. Digital violence is an extension of “analogue” violence, which becomes evident and is carried out through technology.

  • Digital space is seen as an unlimited world in which everything goes viral and reproduces infinitely.

We must be aware that digital world has a physical and social impact. Visits, likes, reproductions, interactions imply more energy consumption, generation of digital garbage and a greater deployment of infrastructures, such as marine cables and data centers. For example, it has been estimated that in 2020 only video streaming would emit as much CO2 as Spain.

  • Technology in a health emergency context has raised a dichotomy between health and privacy.

Technology can support the control of the expansion of the pandemic while respecting rights and freedom. All initiatives based on technology and management of personal and health databases must be transparent, respectful of human rights and comply with measures that protect our information. The alert situation that we encountered in the face of COVID-19 is not a pretext to collect unnecessary data, not to improve protection practices and ethical development of technology for the public interest.

Watch the video here

Authors

Ricardo Zapata - El Derecho a No Obedecer (Colombia)

Beatriz Quesadas - SocialTIC (México)

Haydeé Quijano - SocialTIC (México)

Daniela Jordán - Frena la Curva (Chile)

Sources

· https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/03/17/905264/coronavirus-pandemic-social-distancing-18-months/

· https://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/there-will-be-no-back-normal/

· https://theshiftproject.org/article/climat-insoutenable-usage-video/

· https://www.accessnow.org/tecnologias-de-vigilancia-para-controlar-el-covid-19-en-america-latina/

Link to the article in Ciuidadanía Inteligente