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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to Start a Student Group To Protect Your Digital Privacy

April Glaser
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Watch for it. This year student protest and resistance to mass surveillance might be bursting at the seams. The Internet, which students across the world have grown up with, is under threat. And now more than ever, student leaders are contacting EFF, wanting to know how to get involved to protect our rights online.

Now is the time to organize. We’re calling on all concerned students, whether new organizers or seasoned campus leaders, to join the growing movement to fight for our right communicate and innovate, unhampered by oppressive government surveillance and creativity-stifling copyright law.

Surveillance chills speech. When we know that researching politically controversial topics might make us targets for increased government scrutiny, we are less likely to research. Digital privacy is an intellectual freedom issue. And that’s why we’re thrilled to bring this movement to college campuses.

When we say organize, we mean use your network and institutional resources to create a space for discussion, debate, and campaigns. If there’s already a group of people interested in digital rights, start an official university club so others can find you easily and join. If there’s a professor whose work or interests intersect with the topic, ask her to help plan an event.

Form a Student Group for Digital Freedom

There have always been student groups for those interested in technology and other student groups for those interested in human rights, but now there is an immediate need for these conversations to merge.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Go to the student organization office to find out what is needed to become official
  • Find a faculty sponsor or ally to work with on future events
  • Pick an awesome name
  • Create a website, logo, and mailing list to discuss news and organize campaigns
  • Solidify a regular meeting time so it’s easy for new members to join
  • Hang up posters and flyers to advertise your meetings in the journalism department, the law school, in the political science department, and of course, the computer science department
For your first meeting, consider also offering a skill share or a guest speaker, like a professor who specializes in related field. This might attract even more participants. One event idea is a cryptoparty, where everyone brings their laptop and learns tools and techniques to protect themselves from illegal surveillance. 

Organize An Event

One of the best ways to find out who is interested in these topics on campus is to organize an event. At the event, you can collect email addresses from those who come and start a listserve to keep the conversation going. Here’s a email sign-up sheet you can use.

It’s important to always be creative and open to fun ideas, and we have some event ideas that are pretty easy to unpack and get started:

  • Host a screening and discussion of the Internet’s Own Boy, a documentary about the life and trial of Internet activist Aaron Swartz. Use EFF’s discussion guide and tips for organizing a successful screening
  • Organize a speaker or panel discussion on topics like digital privacy, hacking, copyright and remix culture, or net neutrality. EFF is happy to try to send a speaker to your campus, but please be in touch well in advance,
  • Throw a cryptoparty! There’s never a shortage of people who want to learn ways to protect themselves from pervasive surveillance online. Send an email to folks from the journalism and computer science departments to see if they’d like to partner.
These events should be fun and informational. Everyone should feel welcome, so be sure to do lots of diverse outreach, thinking creatively about communities who might be particularly interested in the topic.

Once you find a good room and start doing outreach, be sure you have all the materials you need to make the event a success. This includes technology the room might need, like a microphone or a projector, as well as an information table at the front, where people should be encouraged to sign up for the email list and take handouts. EFF has plenty of one-pagers on digital rights that you can print out and use.

The Time Is Now

There’s no time to waste. The school year has just begun and student groups are forming. Try to get yours together to display at your university’s fall student club fair or in time to get an event together for this semester. Let us know if you get something organized. Email to keep us in the loop!

Reach out to everyone, because no matter what folks are primarily concerned about, the centrality of technology and electronic communication to all organizing for social justice and political change means that digital rights should matter to everyone.

Let’s do this. After all, it’s our Internet, and we have to fight to protect it. We look forward to working with you.

Please visit EFF to follow the latest in the battle for digital privacy.  

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