TAI joined strategy discussions of the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society last week and some fascinating explorations of how to take on identified drivers of shrinking space including unchecked corporate power, securitization (national security trumps all), and regressive anti-democratic forces. Taking a longer-term view, the hope is to shift to ways to open up civic space. To that end, Michael Edwards offers two solutions. First, address the disappearance of opportunities within the civil society for people of different political views and identities to debate, strategize and organize with one another. Second, invest in public spaces of all kinds in which people can meet each other and ‘not draw the knife’. On the need to reconnect communities and institutions, Independent Sector’s Dan Cardinali says governments need to restore the trust that allows civil society to flourish by emphasizing the values that have long bound us together and by adopting the newer values of shared power and racial equity.
Meanwhile, repression remains all too evident where you are an anti-corruption investigator, environmental defender, or human rights activist (see Long Read below). At least 30 environmental defenders were killed in the Philippines in 2018 and the tally could worsen this year – four dying between September and November alone. On the digital front, we’ve reported on Pegasus malware in past Weeklies, now Aljazeera reveals exactly how some governments are using it to hack journalists’ phones around the world. NGOs are being used as pawns in geopolitics, not least as China announces sanctions on U.S.-based nonprofit organizations, in retaliation for new U.S. legislation that supports Hong Kong’s protesters.
As digital selves are ever more exposed, Privacy International wants you to think about all the ads you see online and how technology companies use your data. For instance, their research showed that about 42 percent of free apps on Google Play could share data with Facebook even if you don’t have an account. Yet the challenges of sharing data in this politicized era offer no simple answers. Just words of caution and concern.
One tension is the balance of individual versus government action. Regulators have a role and the European Union is launching a fresh inquiry into the Google’s data collection practices after it fined the company more than €8billion on a similar offence. However, John Thornhill cautions that while Europe’s leaders are right to worry about big tech, the people, not governments, should exercise digital sovereignty. His fellow commentator Rana Foroohar – continuing her series on big tech – reaches the conclusion that governments need to prohibit the tracking and microtargeting of individuals. At the very least, governments may also want to pay more attention to the way data collection excludes the most vulnerable as a British research body says ‘huge power imbalances’ exist in terms of data governance and usage. If that is true in OECD countries, imagine the risks in lower income settings.
LONG READ: People Power Under Attack
CIVICUS highlights the state of civic freedom in 196 countries. The report shows fundamental roll-back in freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are backsliding across the world, and only 3 percent of global population is living in countries with an open civic space.