What are the risks, challenges and opportunities to be considered?

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What are the risks, challenges and opportunities to be considered?

To spark ideas for comments in this discussion thread, consider the following questions:

Risks: When considering when and how to use mobile phones for citizen media, what are the risks that need to be addressed?

  • What risks do citizens take in using mobile phones in this way?
  • What risks do the organizations take?  
  • How can these risks be mitigated?


  • What challenges have you faced in the use of mobile phones for citizen media?  
  • What lessons have you learned?


  • What new opportunities exist for using mobile phones for citizen media?
  • What ideas do you have for the future of this work?  
  • How can practitioners better coordinate their efforts?
  • What new opportunities exist for funding citizen media and mobile phone initiatives?

Share your thoughts, ideas and stories to this discussion thread by adding your comments below, or responding to existing comments.

How to avoid arrests while videoing strikes, demonstrations?

More and more Vietnamese are taking photos and videos of workers' strikes or public demonstrations. The police are very keen to arrest them. Those who openly use their camera phones, particularly if they raise the phones to get a higher viewpoint, risk such arrests. Those who hide their cameras somewhere in or near their clothing, get low quality images and bad framing.

If anyone knows of good training, techniques, or tools to get both safety and good results, please enlighten me, many thanks.

Hello Trung, Thanks for

Hello Trung, Thanks for posting this -- it will be difficult to give you tactics to avoid arrest.  I can speak to assessing your risks, protecting your phone and the media (and other information) on it, and give a few tactics for protecting discovery of your device.  I will leave it to others to respond to the question of recording high quality media while concealing your device.  I would also love to hear others' tactics for concealing mobiles.

Assessing risksIt's difficult to know what will help you avoid arrest, but in order to think of good tactics, it will be helpful to try to assess your risks more specifically.  When you have some time, would you answer some questions?  If you like, you can respond to me privately on email instead of through this public chat -- becky@mobileactive.org.

  • when someone sees you taking a photograph, what happens?
  • are most/all individuals who take photos arrested or few?
  • are people taking phones from people when they are arrested?
  • what are you already doing to keep yourself safer when documenting?

Protecting your mobile and mediaWe published this article Mobile Tactics for Participants in Peaceful Assemblies that includes tips about assessing the environment in which you are about to use your mobile and some basic tactics for protecting your mobile from discovery -- like turning off sounds and flashes, learning how to remove media quickly so that if your mobile is taken, you may still have the documentation.  This guide was written by a SaferMobile contributor based in Egypt, so the tactics are specific to his context, but I think you will find some parts useful.Also, to the goal of sharing the media you record: 

  • how are you currently sharing this documentation?
  • do you upload it while at the demonstration or later?
  • what services and sites do you use?

Trung, again, thanks for your post and if you would like to be in touch over email, please do not hesitate to write.BeckySaferMobile.orgMobileActive.org


More resources: use mobile phones as securely as possible

In addition to MobileActive’s Safer Mobile project, Tactical Tech also has guides, tips and tactics that compliment this resource.  In their Mobiles-in-a-box toolkit, they have a section on security.  Here is a selection of their “top tips”:

  • When using your phone, remain aware of your surroundings and do not use it in crowded areas or where you feel unsafe.
  • The 15-digit serial or IMEI number helps to identify your phone. You can find out a phone's IMEI number by keying *#06# into most phones or by looking behind the phone's battery. Make a note of your phone's IMEI number and keep it separate from your phone, as this number could help the police to trace ownership quickly if it is stolen.
  • If you get your mobile phone back after it has been lost, stolen or confiscated be careful to ensure that monitoring software has not been installed on the phone since you last had it in your possession.
  • Always use your phone's security lock codes or PIN numbers and do not reveal the numbers to anyone.
  • If you are concerned about being monitored or your work is very sensitive, buy an anonymous SIM card such as a pay-as-you-go card, using cash, if possible. Consider changing your number regularly.
  • If you are concerned about security make it routine to delete the information on your phone. Check the settings on the phone to see if can be set so that it does not store call logs and outgoing SMS.
  • If you do not want your movements to be traceable consider turning the phone off at certain times. From time to time, leave the phone in one place while establishing your presence elsewhere, so that activity on the phone cannot necessarily be linked to you.
  • If you're not concerned about the sensitivity of your communications and activities then you could consider registering your phone with the operator because then if you report your phone stolen, the operator should then be able to stop further use of your phone.

Tactical Tech has also developed the Security-in-a-box toolkit (available in English, Arabic, Russian, French, Spanish and Vietnamese).  In this toolkit, there is a chapter on How to use mobile phones as securely as possible. This chapter is meant to help the reader understand:

  • Why communication and storing data on mobile phones is not secure
  • What steps you can take to increase the security of using mobile phones
  • How can you minimise the chances of being spied on or tracked via your mobile phone
  • How can you maximise the chances of remaining anonymous while using your mobile phone

I realize that these resources don’t necessarily address your specific concern about recording information while concealing a phone.  But your concern brings up so many other questions about mobile security and I thought it would be helpful to share these tools and guides.  I hope you’ll find these resources helpful!

Thanks Kristin

Although not related to my questions, these tips are useful.

pre-paid SIM cards

kantin wrote:

  • If you are concerned about being monitored or your work is very sensitive, buy an anonymous SIM card such as a pay-as-you-go card, using cash, if possible. Consider changing your number regularly.

I recall seeing a survey going around from MobileActive about the regulations in each country regarding the registration of SIM cards. From my personal experience traveling, I find that it is becoming more common the requirement to submit your ID or passport when purchasing a pre-paid SIM card.

Unfortunately, that is the

Unfortunately, that is the case. According to IHS Global Insight, mandatory SIM card registration has been introduced in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, and Ghana within the last years. The result has been halted growth of mobile phone use in a region where it is has more than almost anywhere changed and improved lives.

Thailand, India also require personal information to buy and use even pre-paid SIM cards.

Breaking the ID to SIM card link

Many countries that require ID for SIM card purchases also don't really have the infrastructure to follow through on such a requirement.

In those countries where strong enforcement tying IDs to SIM cards is lax, or just not possible, it isn't hard to convince the seller to ignore the requirement.

Another, and better, way is to use they grey market for SIM cards. Roadside vendors frequently have discounts on SIM cards and, more importantly, aren't going to be checking ID papers. In cases like this it is not difficult to collect a small arsenal of SIM cards from a wide geographic area without any SIM card being tied to a particular person.

Just make sure you cycle through cheap cellphones as well as cycling through SIM cards.

Citizen Reporters: What are the barriers?


I'm working in the mobile team at Al Jazeera, we look into what mobile tools our journalists are using and could be using in the field.

We are also very interested in how mobiles are used for citizen media, what tools have been successful and what the barriers have been to distributing content captured on mobiles. Another issue that we're keen to investigate is how people are delivering their content to news organisations such as Al Jazeera, how difficult/straightforward this process is and what could be done to make this easier.

If you have answers to any of these questions it would be great to hear from you either within the forum or contact me through cynara.vetch@aljazeera.net


The problem of getting

The problem of getting citizen media -> mainstream news organizations is the hard part for us.

We have a lot of data, some of which is probably worthy of discussion on a local news station, however it seems that local news stations only ever report on citizen media after a video 'goes viral.'

Another problem seems to be that because this stuff is so hot right now, a lot of times the story becomes more about the media itself rather than the actual content, although this effect seems to be dying down as citizen media becomes more and more commonplace.


New Tactics resources on engaging the media

OpenWatch wrote:

The problem of getting citizen media -> mainstream news organizations is the hard part for us.

Hi Rich!  Yes, getting info and stories from citizen journalists to mainstream media news orgs is not easy!  I wanted to share a few resources from the New Tactics community on engaging the media.  I hope they are helpful!

New Tactics hosted a dialogue on Engaging the Media in Human Rights a few years ago.  There is a wealth of information in this dialogue including stories, advice, etc.  Here is one comment by Alan Davis (of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting) that I thought would be helpful for this conversation:

Alan_Davis wrote:

A journalist is trained -or encouraged to be cynical and for good reason: A journalist who belives what they hear or are told too readily -without checking things out from others -and determining facts and so on -is no journalist at all. We have all too recently seen in the run up to the most recent Iraqi war what happens when journalists just report what they are told by governments. So we should not then be too surprised that a good journalist will try and use that 'detachment' as a justification from trying to keep some distance from the NGO community.

At the same time all journalists need stories: All editors need material. All media are by tradition competitive: The more NGOs can imagine the perspective and demands of the media, the better they will be able to 'engage' in a way that satisfies both sides. Most importantly, the approach to the media should not be peacemeal, but should be strategic. It should not depend upon a single journalist who may change desks or jobs -but rather should be based upon a longer term vision which involves the senior gate-keepers (i.e. editors and publishers and station managers) and also more than just one media outlet. NGOs should not be thinking about one particular story necessarily, but trying to build a more sustainable, longer-term and profitable relationship with media houses on discussion, awreness and education about the issues -and always doing from the perspective of 'give' and 'take' -that is to say, helping the media produce very good and engaging stories on those subjects that are well crafted, accessible and theirfore popular with audiences -and so advertisers where relevant. Thus, we need to talk about 'marketing.' How not to engage the media? We need to discuss the practise of NGOs paying the media to attend presse conferences or cover stories or buying air time for programming: That short termist approach is wrong, unhealthy and unsustainable. It simply means NGOs are perceived as commercial advertisers as opposed to very useful partners in civil society development and protection.   

That being said, it would be great to hear from participants in this dialogue on the strategies and tactics they have used to engage mainstream media outlets!  Here are a few resources for NGOs and citizen journalists to get their stories heard by mainstream media:

We have a great blog post by Philippe Duhamel titled Lessons from a successful media campaign with a great story and lots of tips. The story is of Maher Arar and the rendition and torture that he was subjected to in 2002.  It was only after the most intense media campaign that Maher Arar was finally brought back to Canada, and this, despite aggressive lobbying against his return and dirty tricks from security agencies.

And finally, we have a tactical notebook titled Engaging the Media: Building support for minimum wage reform, a tactic from South Korea.  This tactical notebook shares the efforts of Korean Women Workers Associations United (KWWAU) to engage the South Korean media to build public awareness about South Korea’s unjust minimum wage system. It was one of many coordinated tactics employed in their campaign to change the minimum wage law and system in order to provide living wages to the most vulnerable workers.  This notebook demonstrates that successful engagement of the media most often requires many other supporting tactics. KWWAU shares the approaches they found were most helpful in engaging the media: credible documentation of the problem, petitions to demonstrate public interest in the issue, and visually engaging performances and demonstrations that are easily captured by the media. With media interest, the campaign was able to expand, bring in new supporters, and provide us with leverage in our negotiation and lobbying efforts.

How have you successfully engaged mainstream media?

Forgot to post this

Forgot to post this yesterday..

Those are GREAT resources, I read through them thoroughly - thanks for sharing!


Gaining Traction

For us, the hardest part is not the technology, it's getting people to USE the technology and services that are available.

This is especially hard when developing services for foreign countries.

So how do you gain traction? We are particularly interested in forging alliancies with local media outlets, but the question is often where to start.

Are there any good resources? Lists of radio stations and local newspapers, things like that?


Opportunity: using mobiles to circumvent media censorship

I found this example of the use of mobile phones on the MobileActive.org site, Tactical Tech and the New Tactics dialogue on Using Radio:

In situations where there is censorship of the news media SMS can be an invaluable way of getting information out. In Zimbabwe the radio station SW Radio Africa started sending out news headlines via SMS when their signal was jammed by the authorities.

SW Radio Africa is a shortwave radio station that gets important information out to Zimbabweans.  However, even shortwave radio can be jammed.  When this happens, SW Radio Africa has used mobile phones to text out news headlines to its audience.  Mobile phones, in this way, can provide a great opportunity to get information out to citizens who are unable to access uncensored news. 

However, as Alix mentions in another New Tactics dialogue on corporate accountability, mobile phone service providers can also be shut down by governments (take Egypt for example).  Does this mean that activists must be wiser about the service provider that they choose?  Does it even matter?  Any thoughts or ideas on this?

Careful about Mobile as Circumvention

Hi Kristin,

Great comment about using SMS and MMS as ways to move information quickly.  Your SW Radio is a very interesting example of just that, it seems. I'd like to point out a distinction in types of censorship, however, because there are also very serious risks in using mobile networks to avoid governmental influence.  Traditional or formal censorship is where a party has the power to edit or wholly remove content before publication, whether through ownership or the projection of some other power.  There is another form of censorship, though, called "soft censorship" which is where a government or other party uses things like licensing, access to distribution channels, access to advertisers, or extra-judicial violence to force journalists to self-censor.

In both instances, the result is a controlled press.  The means to those ends, though, are very different.  There are a number of examples where news organizations who have had trouble maintaining licensing due to soft censorship have migrated to broadcasting primarily through online or SMS/MMS vehicles.  Although this moved these organizations (at least temporarily) beyond the reach of legal prosecution, the results varied highly by context.  In some cases, the censoring party may reduce interference and, in other instances, the censoring party may resort to more extra-legal means- such as violence.  Rarely, however, does shifting formats resolve the tension between the parties, and such a shift is not without its own difficulties.  For example, it can be very difficult for a news organization to convince people to consume news in new or different formats.

Regardless of the type of censorship being used, however, as Kristin points out, one of the most important determinants of safety when using SMS, is the relationship between the mobile network operator and the government, as well as the rule of law protections in place to hold the government accountable for extra-judicial actions. In addition to the drastic measures Kristin mentions, such as shutting down channels of communication, there are other ways that governments and/or other third parties can manipulate mobile network operators to compromise user safety.

Many governments use the same mechanisms (like licenses, taxes, and telecommunications regulations) to influence mobile network operators as they use to control news outlets.  This is even more dangerous because most mobile networks operators collect and maintain enormous amounts of information about their users. This information, if compromised, can be used to locate, prosecute, or, even worse, harm, people using their mobile phones.  In addition to more dubious methods, most governments have legal ways to acquire user records predicated on things like public safety, which can be interpreted a number of ways.

In general, basic SMS is not a good tool to use to avoid censorship because of the increased risk of discovery and harm.  Ther are ways to limit or mitigate these risks, but there are (to my knowledge) no ways to absolutely guarantee a user's safety using SMS networks, especially where a government is the countervailing party.


High cost by service providers

Anyone who has been to Africa will tell you that no where else has the use of mobile phones changed the lives of people than on the continent. In kenya for instance we see mobile phones being used as ways of sending government information to the people in the rural community. Mobile phones have been used as a way of monitoring local governments expenditure by regular citizens as well as ensuring enhanced public participation. However, civil society led projects that have relied on mobile phones to enhance participation in decision making have found the method to be very unsustainable. This is because kenya only has five service providers with the largest two taking up 90% of the subscription and price control with very little government regulation. The cost for using mobile phone technology is therefore very high. 

Patita Tingoi

Reading some of the comments

Reading some of the comments from the participants makes me realize that Kenya (and most of Africa) have a long way to go before we fully utilize available technology to enhance citizen media. Of course we have radio stations and mobile phones but since radio station are still largely controlled environments its hard to say just how much of open and free discussions take place. The use of social media is just now catching momentum and so is yet to have a major impact. 

In a country where access to information remains a challenge I wonder how the use of social media might pose a risk if not well used. In 2007/2008 mobile phones were used as a tool for spreading propaganda. Im sure as some of you might know, what followed is tribal clashes which left thousands dead. Today, I see people use the likes of Facebook and twitter to do the same. This is however not to say that the same tools have not been used for good. I wonder if there has been any regulation from some countries that has ensured that any use of this platforms negatively is curtailed before it causes harm to the public. 

Patita Tingoi

Hi Patita. Thank you for the

Hi Patita. Thank you for the comment. You raise a very important issue here on the risks of social media in certain areas. I am reminded of a recent case in Zimbabwe in which a man was arrested for posting a comment on Facebook. According to this article on AllAfrica.com, it was only after the arrest that police went through his phone and discovered the message in the sent folder.

I am interested in what others have to say on this topic and hope we see responses to your post and query: I wonder if there has been any regulation from some countries that has ensured that any use of this platforms negatively is curtailed before it causes harm to the public.

Thank you again for the comment and highlighting this important issue.




High cost and strict regulation of SIM cards

Prepaid SIM cards were introduced in Myanmar only last February. And the cost is very prohibitive. This makes it difficult for individuals and groups to widely use mobile phones for citizen media and protest actions. Recently, the government also banned VOIP in internet cafes. 

A blogger from Myanmar shares a story on applying for a GSM phone in the country:

"You have to apply at MPT (Myanmar Post and Telecommunication) for permission to be able to "rent the GSM phone", (as written on the request for permit paper) and not everyone who applies get permits....On the SIM cards, there would be a date (3 months from production date) that you will have to check. For example, if you have bought a card that only has a week until expiration date, then it will expire after a week, even though you've bought a one month pre-paid card."

Impact of SIM card registration?

There are more than 60 million cell phone subscribers, out of a population of 92 million in the Philippines. Most mobile phone users are prepaid card owners. This means SIM cards can be easily purchased with no government regulation. Cost has gone down too. It's no surprise, therefore, that use of cell phones has been integral in protests and other political actions. Citizen media is amplified with use of phones as more and more people are connecting to the internet via their smartphones. 

Now the government wants to introduce SIM card registration. Politicians argue that most countries have been practicing a mandatory SIM card registration. They insist that it's essential to promote security and prevent use of phones to commit crimes. So far, we have been able to resist this plan by enjoining the public to protest against it. 

Now here are my questions: How has SIM card registration affected the use of phones for political activities in your countries? Did it affect the cost too? How about issues on privacy? Is it effective as a crime prevention measure? 

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