The Myth of a Transnational Anti-Surveillance Community

Till Waescher

Even though they were conceptualized and steered by U.S. based organizations, the grassroots campaigns following the Snowden leaks featured an international roster of participants who to varying degrees contributed to the strategy and framings. A great deal of these US-based activists sought out privacy activists from the so called ‘Global South’ to share their experiences with surveillance apparatuses in authoritarian contexts. In turn, groups from Latin America, the Maghreb region, or East Africa saw great benefits in joining U.S.-led, international privacy campaigns.

The importance, especially for groups from those regions to take part in such campaigns should not be understated. For them presenting their case in the transnational arena is an indispensable tool to evoke reactions from authoritarian governments who are generally not responsive to domestic civil society claims. In turn, inviting activists from non-western countries to talk about privacy breaches in their national contexts were used as warning signs against unchecked surveillance in Europe and the U.S. However, these occasional encounters between activists from around the world have not led to the formation of a organized transnational privacy movement.

From the outset, the international privacy activist scene had all the prerequisites for evolving into a transnational movement. For example, many privacy activists see themselves as global citizens and had been heavily inspired by the international protest waves that rocked the world following the global political and financial crises in the late 2000s. They frequently characterized themselves as cosmopolitans caring about the privacy rights of all people not just those from their home country. As an activist described it, the privacy community was a “fairly international bunch of people and so it is natural for them to extend their concerns that way.” But the community’s  support for international campaigns was less about their efficacy than about demonstrating transnational solidarity to the outside world. Their symbolic power seemed to transcend their ability to generate tangible legal results. As two activists from Eastern Europe put it, “the idea is that we are all across the globe sharing the same problems.” To read the full post, click here.