And The State:
How We Resist
Online crackdowns against sex workers are on the rise. The UK’s imminent porn ban will push independent porn producers out of business; porn bans on sites like Tumblr have devastated online communities; in the US, last year’s introduction of the FOSTA/SESTA bills led to the closure of sites like Backpage, on which thousands of sex workers relied for their living. This panel will gather together the voices of sex workers from across the industry, as well as campaigners with an interest in broader issues around the online censorship and surveillance of marginalised communities discussing what’s happening and how we can resist the carceral, censorious agenda being played out.
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Helen Hester, Juno Mac, Gracie Mae Bradley, Camille Melissa, Amina du Jean
technology, surveillance, violence against women, FOSTA/SESTA, porn, internet, sex work, advertising, police, security
Helen Hester (HH);
Juno Mac (JM) - SWARM;
Gracie Mae Bradley (GMB); Camille Melissa (CM);
Amina du Jean (AJ).
00:00:00 HH My name’s Helen Hester. I’m an academic at the University of West London, and my research kind of sits at the intersection of gender, technology and work. And this panel is “Technology, Surveillance, and The State: How We Resist”. So I just want to start by giving a little introduction to—shall I use the mic? Is that going to make a difference? Can you hear me? Is that on? How’s that? Better? Okay. Less projection on my part. Fantastic! So I’m going to start with a little introduction to some of the issues that we might touch in the course of this discussion, and then I’m going to throw over to the fantastic panel that we have here today. I’m incredibly privileged to have been invited into this space, incredibly privileged to be able to introduce these fantastic speakers. And so, what’s going to happen is, I’ll do a little introduction, each of our speakers will have about seven minutes each to talk about issues, we’re going to have a little roundtable discussion and then finish with questions. Okay, so, as I think we’re all aware, digital technologies have played a really significant role in feminist organising in recent years. They’ve been a tool of coordination, they’ve been a tool of organisation, they’ve been really important in terms of resource sharing. And, on the one hand, these digital technologies have been a means of ensuring visibility. So we see this with hashtags like #MeToo, in the anglophone world, and then it’s Brazilian forerunner, #MyFirstHarassment, which was incredibly influential in Latin American gender politics. But as well as ensuring visibility, these technologies have also had a role in ensuring obfuscation. So there’s been the possibility of at least some degree of anonymity, however fragile, associated with these digital tools, and that’s been quite important for some of the people who use them. So, for example, we’ve seen the use of things like de-gendered pseudonyms as a tactic to avoid harassment online for women in things like gaming spaces, and in this case, anonymity has been a weapon, admittedly a very partial fix, against online harassment. And of course, the ability to resist surveillance has historically been very important for activists, for whistleblowers, for those fleeing domestic violence, and so on. And anonymity is often really valued by those facing potential discrimination, including those globally who are using social media to work around LGBT issues, those who are working to further sex workers’ rights, and so on. We frequently see expressions of concern about this kind of technologically enabled obfuscation. So there’s this kind of anxiety in some quarters about people’s ability to conceal something of themselves online, and we see this very often in reports in the press, and so on. Anonymity is positioned as a kind of potential threat, and often as a threat specifically to people perceived as being vulnerable to abuse and to targeted harassment. So, anxieties about anonymous trolls, anxieties about Channers, Redittors, egg accounts on Twitter, the sort of bad Internet. And there’s this idea that crops up occasionally that drawing the veil back on these people by making anonymous spaces, by making online spaces less anonymous is somehow a solution, it’s a way of addressing our anxieties about the online world. Our anonymity is positioned as a kind of threat, sometimes. Anonymity is even seen as a threat to people who wish to be anonymous themselves. So the porn block, for example, which is sort of coming into force in the summer, is concerned about protecting children from their own curiosity, to a certain extent, by introducing these mandatory age-verification systems for those who are seeking to access online adult content. So consumption is made less anonymous, in this case, by the requirement that you provide credit card details, or a passport, or perhaps a driving licence, and this risks huge implications in terms of data protection of course, huge implications in terms of increased surveillability, but surprisingly, this is not a massive concern for the government at the moment. So I would argue that we need to be extremely critical of moves towards protection that’s really a sort of masked form of control. As we know, tools that we might imagine to be used for the protection of the vulnerable have a habit of being applied in often unforeseen ways. So, just look at the history of censorship legislation. Sometimes it’s been imagined as a step to help protect women, but frequently this legislation targets, particularly, LGBT communities. And often, of course, online abuse is actually not anonymous Channers coming for you, it’s people we know in our day-to-day lives. It’s an extension of offline abuse, and so it’s perpetuated by people we know rather than this kind of caricature of anonymous trolls. It’s also quite widely recognised within sex worker communities that digital tools can serve a useful role in particular contents. So this is from advertising, to information sharing, to mobilising for sex worker safety and rights. The possibility of some degree of anonymity is often really key in these contexts. And recent developments in the US point to some of the dangers for workers when these kinds of community spaces are jeopardised. So, I’m sure many of you here are well-versed in SESTA and FOSTA, but obviously there’s quite a mixed audience here, so just to recap some of the basics. So SESTA is Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. FOSTA is the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which is sort of the House equivalent of SESTA, and it was passed in the US very recently. And these laws are intended to hold online platforms to account for content posted by its users, so things like on Backpage, on Craig’s List. Online publishers are being held responsible for the things that their users say and do. And, as was quite well publicised, Craig’s List shut down its entire personal section in the wake of this legislation in order to avoid facing any kind of legal repercussions. Forcing sex workers off of these sites may mean forcing them onto the streets and may have a detrimental effect upon their safety. So, lots of sex workers have been very quick to point out that this legislation does nothing to eradicate sex trafficking, which is its ostensible target, but is has this substantial effect on the conditions in which all sex work is performed. And because the legislation is conveniently worded in this very vague, loosey-goosey kind of way, there are a lot of concerns about how it will be implemented on the part of online platforms. So they are becoming very cautious. Things like forums for sex worker peer support seem to be vulnerable to being targeted, and some Subreddits were taken down immediately after SESTA/FOSTA passed. So the state is really taking away an important digital tool for maximising worker safety, here. There are some other developments that we might want to touch on in the course of this discussion which are perhaps a bit more speculative: emerging technologies like natural language processing, or automated facial recognition. So, at the moment these technologies, which appear to have been very widely trained on quite biased data—so they’ve been trained on the basis of white faces in particular, middle-class CIS-male voices, and so on—they’ve been shown to struggle to accurately recognise certain kinds of data, by which we really mean people. So black vernacular English, which is used on Twitter, it isn’t recognised as being English at all by natural language processing technologies that are available off the shelf. Non-English accents, and many regional accents, are completely misread by YouTube’s auto-captioning systems. And people of colour are more frequently mis-identified by facial recognition. And so on. As Os Keyes points out, in relation to, there are these similar set of issues around automatic gender recognition, too. So these technologies are programmed with a very limited binary understanding of what gender is, meaning that gender queer, trans, non-binary, or otherwise othered faces, get misrecognised by the technology. So there are two response to that. One is that, as some commentators that are kind of pushing for more reliable models to be used. So training systems on “better”, fuller, more sophisticated, less biased data, so that everybody can use, or be used by, these technologies. However, others have pointed out that there are significant implications here in terms of surveillance—the theme of this panel. So Nabil Hussain 00:10:09, for example, questions whose interests would truly be served by the deployment of automated systems capable of reliably identifying black people. In Hussain’s words, “The reality, for the foreseeable future, is that the people who control and deploy such technologies at any consequential scale, will predominantly be our oppressors. Why should we desire our faces to be legible for efficient automated processing by systems of their design?” And Keyes too is of the opinion that automated gender recognition tech should not be improved but should be abandoned. It should be abolished. We don’t need to push for better ways of automatically recognising gender, because the implications of these technologies for many people, including many sex workers, are far too troubling to countenance. So the kind of general perspective that I’m hoping will animate this panel and inform the discussion that we want to have is not tech-positive, it’s not tech-negative, but it is sort of tech-critical. What specific technologies allow us to do specific things? At what costs, and in what circumstances, and for whose benefit? So we need to have these nuanced context-specific discussions, grounded not in technological determinism, but in a commitment to political struggle. So hence this idea: how do we resist? The sort of subtitle of this panel. And in order to tell us how we resist, I shall turn to our lovely speakers. Shall we start with Juno and then go on. Does that make sense? Shall I give you a little introduction?
00:11:56 JM Sounds good.
00:11:59 HH Juno Mac, she/her, is a sex worker and a co-author of Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights, which is an absolutely banging book, as I’m sure most people in here are aware, alongside fellow SWARM member, Molly Smith. Juno?
00:12:13 JM Hi. Is that on? Yeah? So I will save most of my best points for the conversation. Some of what I was going to go into was just covered excellently there by Helen, but I think what I’m thinking about most at the moment with regards to tech and surveillance and all of these issues, is that we’re living in a time, a really interesting time, of uncertainty about what our values are in terms of how we use the Internet, how we use tech. Over the last ten years, since I’ve been a sex worker, I’ve watched the Internet completely change the way I work, and the way that the sex industry operates. The arrival of adult work and the prevalence of independent advertising online, in the form of ads on Craig’s List and Backpage, it completely took the bottom out of the market of where I was working in massage parlours in Soho at the time. Clients, instead of walking into such places, would go online. Business fell, and I soon found myself changing the way I worked; that place shut down. The Internet has given sex workers so much, even in that it took some things away, though. It’s given us ways to work independently, it’s connected us with our communities. We’ve used social media to find clients. We’ve used things like Airbnb to find places to work. You know, the Internet replaced a lot of the infrastructures that it took away. But I think we made the mistake, up until a year ago, of largely believing that the Internet was like a public place that we could all move around in and that we took for granted. And maybe that was a bit of a middle-class misgiving, because of course sex workers aren’t really allowed to be in the public places either, and the Internet wasn’t the public place that we thought it was. FOSTA has ushered in a new era of… it feels more obvious than ever before that we are considered to be trespassing on the websites that we felt so at home on, the ones that we’d come to depend on. I mean, when FOSTA arrived in April 2018, some people’s entire livelihoods just slipped from between their fingers. People who made the bulk of their living on Backpage. People who had worked in America, who had worked for years to establish a reputation on The Erotic Review, which was a kind of Yelp for sex workers, that website went down, and with it, a lot of people’s reliable sources of income. And, for me personally, I now feel like we’ll look back and we’ll be shocked that we took it for granted that we could feel safe in these spaces. Airbnb is another one. I’ve got a friend who’s now lost two Airbnb accounts, who’s a sex worker. She’s never even used Airbnb to find places to work, and she can’t work out how Airbnb keep finding out that she’s a sex worker. The way that they’re finding that out isn’t known to her. And that’s really scary, I think. I think we can all relate, even people who aren’t sex workers, to the feeling that there are algorithms at work, and you don’t know how they’re working. There’s knowledge in the system about you, and you don’t know where it’s being stored, or how it was collected. And that feeling of uneasiness, I think, is something that we’re going to be feeling more and more, and I think sex workers, like in so many areas, are the canary in the coal mine in that regard. The freedoms that everybody takes for granted are often taken from sex workers first. Things like censorship, thing like not being able to use a website like Twitter. Twitter is an example of a site that, it’s a good example of how FOSTA works. Because the law is worded in such a woolly way, websites like Twitter don’t really know how culpable they’re going to be for the content that FOSTA/SESTA says is unacceptable. So, they’re pre-emptively trying to protect themselves from the ramifications of that law by removing sex workers, or even just shadow-banning sex workers. And I don’t if everyone knows about shadow banning, but it’s kind of a low-key form of censorship, wherein they will demote the appearance of your platform on the site, they’ll stop you coming up in searches, they’ll make it harder for people to find you, but they won’t let you know about it. You’re not privy to how that works, and you haven’t lost your entire account, you can’t get in touch with anybody, and again I don’t even know—I must have like fifty people in my social circles who that’s happened to. It’s happened to me. It’s had a huge effect on my income. So yeah, I think I’d like to talk more about that misplaced trust in our freedoms and the way that other people need to, other people who aren’t just in the sex worker allied community need to pay attention to FOSTA and SESTA because it shows everybody how their liberties will be taken away. FOSTA and SESTA is the first law of its in that it moves the responsibility onto websites for the content that they users post, and for now it’s sex, but next it will be people’s personal, non-commercial sexualities, and then it will be expressions of sexual orientation, and then it will be political speech, and before you know it we have a situation in which there’s a FOSTA and SESTA for all kinds of obscene and unacceptable social acts. We could be seeing a form of FOSTA/SESTA in place for people who wish to speak freely about abortion access, for example. We could see shadow banning for the Twitter accounts that are distributing information about how people can travel out of state to get an abortion. And so, yeah, I think people would do well to pay attention to the restrictions on free speech that sex workers face and not think of it as just like a niche thing, like, “Oh, so what that there’s no sex industry; that doesn’t apply to me.” And I’ll leave it there for now. [Audience applauds]
00:19:13 HH Thank you so much, Juno. So next we have Gracie Mae Bradley, she/her. Gracie Mae Bradley writes and campaigns on human rights, state racism, and privacy and surveillance. She is policy and campaigns manager at Liberty and part of the Against Borders for Children campaign. Thanks, Gracie.
00:19:29 GMB Thanks. Thanks, SWARM, for having me. It’s really great to have been invited, and I’m really excited to see you’ve pulled together such a great weekend. I basically am not often able to speak about all of the things that I work on at the same time, and this is kind of an opportunity to do that, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t know where to end. So, it’ll be a bit tricky. But I wanted to say something first of all just about the UK’s state surveillance regime. So some of you, hopefully most of you, will remember the Snowden revelations that essentially unveiled this massive international architecture of suspicionist surveillance. And the UK parliament, rather than acting to dismantle that once it had been exposed, unsurprisingly, essentially rushed through legislation to rubber stamp it. And that’s the Investigatory Powers Act, what we call the Snooper’s Charter, and it means that the state can read your texts, your online messages, your emails, it can listen to your calls, all of this without any suspicion that you’re involved in any kind of wrongful activity. It means that internet service providers and communications companies keep records of emails, calls and texts and web-browsing history, and it means that state agencies are empowered to link together massive databases—state databases, and those held by the private sector. I also wanted to say something briefly about police, and Helen’s mentioned facial recognition, and the BBC Click documentary I think has generated more conversation about this than I’ve seen in the last two or three years. Organisations like Liberty and Big Brother Watch have been trying to say to everybody, “The police are trialling facial recognition now. It will turn us into walking ID cards. And somebody needs to do something about this.” And I think that human rights NGOs are often well-placed to raise the civil liberties issues. We’re not necessarily the best place to think more critically and mobilise more critically about what is likely to happen. You’ll see, on a human rights analysis, that there, a pure legal analysis, that very often there will be some exceptional circumstance in which some technology can be used. And we’re not necessarily the right people to say, “No, never.” And that means that other people need to step up and do that. But my colleagues will be in court on Monday for the first ever legal challenge to police use of facial recognition in the UK, and hopefully you will follow that and see whether or not we’re successful. I also wanted to raise police use of mobile fingerprint scanners. So these have been around for a while, but they’ve been updated, essentially. So forces are rolling them out—new ones—and they don’t just check police databases. They check against an immigration database as well. So, something to be aware of. And of course, body-worn video is increasingly ubiquitous, and predictive policing tools. We now know my colleague, Hannah Couchman, did a load of FOIs and found out that fourteen police forces are using, or intend to use, predictive policing tools that map either areas in which crime is likely to occur, or attempt to access the risk of a person committing a crime. And that’s kind of a really big picture sort of general state surveillance to which technically anybody could be subjected sort of introduction. But it’s obvious that state surveillance isn’t deployed evenly, and its effects are not felt evenly, and so I wanted to talk a little bit about counter-terror, and the Gangs Matrix, and immigration enforcement, because those are the areas that I work on. Can I have a show of hands for who’s heard of Prevent? Okay, some, but not everyone. So, the Prevent strategy was, it was—the government started working on it in 2002, and it was published in 2006, and essentially it’s a strategy for dealing with people… at that time, it was a strategy for dealing with people who were being radicalised, or who the state believed were being radicalised, and were likely to turn to a life of violence. And it was explicitly targeted at Muslims, at that time. In 2011, the strategy was updated to encompass non-violent extremism, and that’s a term that has no meaning that would stand up in court, but it includes opposition to British values. And I think when you mentioned like kind of vague loosey-goosey things, I think that’s a really great example. In 2015, a statutory duty on a range of public services was introduced, and that means that they have a duty—I mean, universities, NHS, police, et cetera—they have a duty to identify extremism, or people showing signs of extremism, and refer those people for deradicalisation under a programme called Channel. And Prevent is now being rolled out in the private sector. The police are working with employers to train employees to spot the signs of radicalisation in their co-workers. They’re explicitly focusing on people like warehouse workers, who they think are likely to be isolated and vulnerable, and MI5 is also going to start declassifying information on subjects of interest and sharing it with local authorities, who I assume have absolutely no idea how to deal with MI5 intelligence. In 2017 to 2018, there were seven thousand referrals to the Prevent programme, and three hundred of those referrals, three-hundred of the people referred actually received any kind of support. We have no idea what happens to the information on all of those other people, but what you can see is that a really, really wide net is cast, data is retained on huge numbers of people, and actually only a small number are ever marked out for any kind of intervention. But we know that the impact is people, and particularly Muslims, people racialised as Muslim, ethnic minorities, self-censoring when they interact with essential public services. Not being able to trust their doctor, for example, their employer, and a generalised climate of suspicion in which Muslims in particular exist. And, I mean, Liberty has represented, we represented of two young boys, two young brown boys. The police had been called to the school because one of the children mentioned that their parents had given them a toy gun, and the kids had been kept in isolation. Eventually the police took no further action, but the school admitted that they did it specifically because they were worried about what they were worried about what their obligations were under Prevent. And the teachers, the school tried to say, “Well, you know, this child has spoken about their dad taking them to the mosque, speaking Arabic. The parents don’t speak Arabic, they’re not practising Muslims.” So that’s the kind of thing that Prevent gives rise to at a pretty industrial scale. In the context of the Gangs Matrix, hands up anyone who has heard about the Gangs Matrix. Okay, fewer than Prevent. Amnesty International have done some really brilliant research on the Metropolitan Police’s Gang’s Matrix. It’s essentially a database, and it’s important to preface this by saying that obviously the notion of the gang is racialised, it’s classed, it’s gendered, it doesn’t map easily onto who actually commits violence or is at risk of violence. And indeed, the Met’s Gang’s Matrix was a database for people, A) who the police thought were at risk of violence, and B) who they thought were likely to commit violence. But there was no clear differentiation as to, “Okay, well how do we intervene different for these different groups of people?” They had a kind of “red”, “amber”, “green” classification, but apart from that it was all pretty rudimentary. And people could be put onto that database on the basis of two pieces of intelligence, they didn’t have to be well verified, and that information and that person’s status as a suspected gang nominal would be shared with the Housing Office, potential education providers, prospective employers, potentially immigration enforcement, and it would mark people out for particular kinds of police intervention, like really intrusive stop and search. And StopWatch have written a really good report called, “Being Matrixed” that is very much a kind of qualitative, subjective talk with people who have been on the Gang’s Matrix about what that actually did to their day-to-day lives and how that made them feel. And what we see now is a proposed serious violence prevention duty, which would require public servants to report on people that they thought were at risk of serious violence. So it’s Prevent, but for gangs. And again, it will be young black men who are marked out for this kind of intervention. And then, very briefly, on immigration enforcement, I mean this is operating in a slightly different way, but essentially in the context of a hostile environment, a web of secret data-sharing deals have been enacted between the Home Office and essential public services, and it makes it really easy for the Home Office to get hold of somebody’s address if they, for example, go to the doctor, or register their child for school, or interact with the police. And it’s not something that people might traditionally think of as surveillance, but it is a form of targeted surveillance, and it means that people can’t interact with essential public services without fear of deportation. So what we see across all of these areas is a trend in state practice which assigns a person a suspect status, and then uses that status to effectively exclude them from access to essential goods and public services, or to mark them out for some non-consensual intervention absent any actual clear evidence—i.e. evidence that would stand up in court—of harmful activity, often couched in the language of safeguarding, which I think again points to what Helen said about protection as a masked form of control. And I think that the reason that everybody should be concerned about this is that ultimately these are technologies of exclusion, and the category of suspect status, as Juno was saying, is not a fixed one. They’re not, these are technologies of exclusion that aren’t going to confine themselves to undocumented migrants, or to gang nominals, or to suspected extremists. I will leave the—sorry, I’ve just done all doom and gloom. There’s actually quite a lot that we can do, but I’ll leave that maybe for the discussion, but I suppose, in conclusion I’d say that… So, the reason that I started working on the surveillance stuff at Liberty is because my colleague left and I got left to deal with the Data Protection Bill, and it was the first time that I’d ever stepped into kind of any traditional data, NGO-y, tech space. And it’s actually the first time in my career that anybody’s been particularly sexist to me—I guess I’m lucky—but it was men, A) telling me I was wrong, and B) plagiarising me at the same time. It was really, really annoying. But the point is, is that those kind of traditional surveillance spaces aren’t actually very good at thinking intersectionally, and often don’t necessarily have a political analysis that’s grounded in the actual history of state practice and the logic of what the state actually tries to do. So it’s really important that we in our organising and our work are able to integrate surveillance into that, because surveillance, obviously, it’s not just about privacy, it’s not just about covering your face, it’s not just about the state finding out stuff about you that you don’t want it to know; it’s about who gets stopped and searched, who can freely express their religion, who has to worry about who they associate with in public, who gets deported, who gets to make certain kinds of art and music, who can access essential public services. So, I guess I would just reiterate that surveillance is really a question of survival, it’s a question of flourishing, and hopefully you will all take an interest in it. [Audience applauds]
00:32:10 HH Okay. Our next speaker is Camille Melissa. Camille Melissa is a visual artist, photographer, doctoral researcher, and a sex worker. She graduated with a BSc from La Trobe University in 1997, and with postgraduate studies in criminology from the University of Melbourne in 1999. In 2017, she graduated with an MA in photography from London South Bank University. Her research explores body politics, sexuality, surveillance, censorship, identity, and sex work as image makers—or sex workers as image makers. She is currently undertaking a practice-based PhD in photography at the Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media at the University of Westminster. Welcome, Camille!
00:32:49 CM Thank you. I guess if you were paying attention to that, you probably realise that I lie about my age [laughs] on my sex work profiles. My name is Camille and I wanted to say thank you for allowing me to come to this space. I usually talk about my research in front of civilians and I am constantly tripping over myself—what I should say, what I shouldn’t say; should I out myself; should I not out myself. I am an out-sex worker. I’ve been outed that many times I don’t know if I’m in the bloody closet or I’m out it [laughs]. But I occupy a really unique and fortunate position that I am an out-sex worker in academia. I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to ask sex workers to give me photographic content without locating myself within my research. The full title of my research is, “Whoretography: Sex Workers as Image Makers,” and I’m doing a critical analysis of the way sex workers use self-representation in online spaces. It does fit into SESTA/FOSTA. A fair amount of my research is based on the way photography has been weaponised against sex workers, issues surrounding surveillance and identity, and I think I’m mainly focusing on sex workers who identify as female. And that’s not particularly because I want to exclude anybody. It’s just that all my research is focused in theories of representation and presentation, film theory, photo theory, and a lot of that is then situated in feminist theory. I think female sellers of sex occupy this really vicious… they’re trapped in this vicious visual cycle that is so concrete that they can’t escape from, and it’s replicated in the media, it’s replicated in cinema, and it basically depicts them as either harlots, happy harlots that uphold the structures of patriarchy, or as passive, pitiful victims of their circumstance. And because that visual landscape is played out in media and cinema, the political response can only be pity and rescue. My research comes into wanting to deconstruct the entire visual landscape of sex work—in three years—because I think in order to shift political landscapes you need to shift the visual landscape, because the visual landscape informs people’s views, and that shapes people’s political response. In terms of SESTA and FOSTA, I see that as a socially-engineered crackdown that has been thirty years in the making. It’s a social, ethnic cleansing of the Internet, a moral gentrification to create some ridiculous visual utopia on the Internet that just doesn’t exist. What I mean when I say—well, actually, I need to step back. Two things happened thirty years ago. One was the democratisation of photography, which basically means photography became affordable, and it became accessible, and it got taken out of the hands of the middle classes, and was available to—and this is not my phrase, I’m going to use it—“the peasant masses” [laughs]. So for the first time in history, working class people, marginalised people, had a way to document themselves. The other thing that happened thirty years ago, apart from me graduating [laughs], is the rise of the Internet. And what those two things did, it allowed female sellers of sex for the first time in history to control their visuals, to control how they are perceived to people. For the first time—
00:37:04 ? [inaudible]
00:37:04 CM —exactly. [Laughs] sex workers weren’t appearing in photos that were created by men for men. And this is what I think SESTA and FOSTA is. SESTA and FOSTA is an attempt to go back to pre-Internet days to say, “Sex workers are no longer welcome in online spaces. Sex workers need to go back to the private public spheres and not be seen, not occupy, and certainly not be visible and be out and about.” I mean, it’s one thing to have… I mean, sex workers have been debated forever in art, but it’s one thing to go into Ikea and buy a painting of an historical prostitute by some dodgy French, Flemish artist and put that on your wall. It’s another thing entirely then to switch on the Internet and have to interact with sex workers and have to see sex workers occupy space. And when I talk about the weaponization of photography, I talk about things like people creating books from Google Street images of prostitutes, who’ve just been loitering on the streets. So they’ve just gone, taken the photos—and, I mean, this is their language, not mine. Clients outing sex workers: this massive thirst for images, now, that if you have to exist online as a sex worker, you have to put photographs online. Who made up that rule? Who says that we have to put erotic content online to sell sex? Why doesn’t the visual marketing rules that apply to other industries, why don’t they seem to apply to full-service sex workers. It’s—Facebook groups set up by feminists that share debate, discuss, mock the morgue photos of deceased sex workers, mug shots of deceased sex workers. It’s Hackney Council in, I think a few years ago, in an effort to gentrify the neighbourhood, they released a photograph of a street sex worker being arrested. And they circulated that to a hundred thousand residents in the local area. That is what I mean by the weaponization of photography, how photography has been, is a tool of social destruction for sex workers, and that’s how I see SESTA and FOSTA. It’s, whilst I understand the political and the criminal reasons behind its existence, to me, it’s just something that we should have seen coming thirty years ago, and it’s something that Juno and I spoke to about. We got too comfortable on the Internet, and we stopped paying attention to the people who were looking at us, because it’s one thing to exist in art as a sex worker, as long as somebody else is depicting you. You can’t be in control of your own image. And this is what I see SESTA and FOSTA as: it’s a backlash, in particular against female sellers of sex. It’s a backlash against female sex workers having the audacity to control their own image and exist in online spaces the way they want to. So if I—it does relate to my research! [Laughs] So how do we… I often get asked, “How do we overcome that?” And, honestly, I’ve got no bloody idea. But what I’m trying to do with my research is that I’m trying to, and I honestly believe in my deepest soul that if you want to shift the political landscape, you need to shift the visual landscape. So I’m mapping the entire visual stereotype landscape from the 1850s to the 1990s. Just so we can get—because, I mean, one thing that really pisses me off is that photography’s been around for a hundred and eighty years, the sex worker rights movement for what, forty years, and photography’s so lacking in the discussions. I mean, we don’t even have discussions about the photo being a form of protest. The fact that the photo exists is a protest. The fact that a sex worker puts a photograph online, that is a radical, bold act of defiance. And there’s a creative resistance, a creative rebellion that’s going on that just isn’t documented in the literature because sex workers are doing it for themselves. And I’m face-out, because I was forced out of the closet. [Laughs] Not everyone has the opportunity to be face-out, but the fact that the term “face-out” does not exist anywhere in the academic literature to me is just insanely offensive. So from the 1990s to current, I’m doing a critical analysis of the way sex workers self-document. Everything from your, [laughs possibly in response to weird moaning noise coming from somewhere], everything from your motivations, your intentions, your audiences, to a basic stylistic analysis. And then I want to move on to, I think, one of the things about how do we resist SESTA and FOSTA, and one of the fabulous things I’ve seen, the most heart-warming things I’ve seen in response to SESTA and FOSTA, are the sex workers who’ve gone, “You know what? Fuck you! I’m going to become more bold!” So we then start, and they’re posting more pornographic content in response to SESTA and FOSTA, almost goading to be booted off the Internet, so therefore we need to start redefining our definition and understanding of pornography to include activism. And I think the last thing I want to do, because I am—it breaks my heart that I think in five years’ time, that you will not be able to go onto the Internet and find a sex worker site because we’ve all been reduced to high jacking civilian hashtags like “women are in business”, because we’re not allowed to exist in online spaces. So one of the things I’m trying to do is just create an archive and a public anthology of sex worker photography and all this just so that it’s accessible post the porn ban, post SESTA. Because this—do you know, even things like the sex worker gifs, they might just be comical, but they’re actually quite powerful and political, which is why, to me that’s why SESTA and FOSTA exist. But I think it goes—I’m probably ranting. I knew I would rant. But I think to me SESTA and FOSTA is nothing more than, “We don’t like the fact that sex workers have access to photography, and that sex workers are defining the way that they’re seen.” Because you can’t control sex workers if you don’t control the visual message. And that’s what SESTA and FOSTA is, really, just turning off the Internet for sex workers. [Audience applauds]
00:44:33 HH Thank you, Camille. Our final speaker on this panel is Amina du Jean, she/her. Amina is a London-based black migrant sex worker, social media influencer, and writer. Her topics of interest are black youth culture, migrant sex workers, and black gender relations. She has worked primarily in Asia as a migrant sex worker, and now the UK. And she draws her knowledge from these experiences. She hopes to expand the dialogue of sex worker rights to include black and migrant identities. Welcome, Amina.
00:45:00 AJ Hello, everybody. My name is Amina. I’m originally from America, a small town near Detroit. I don’t know if you guys know it. I worked a little bit in the United States, mostly in Japan as a migrant sex worker from the time I was a teenager, and then now in the UK. And I’m also a student of social anthropology. My topics of interest again, as she said, is youth culture, black youth, migrant sex workers, and I love Internet culture. So to be on this panel was something that intersects with Internet culture and technology and sex work is really important to me. So I’d like to start off and agree with the other people on the panel that stated how FOSTA/SESTA is just so open-ended of a law, that it’s just kind of dangerous, like with the legal framework, because I’m not a legal expert or anything like that, but from what I’ve researched about it, it’s seems to be that any site that a sex worker uses for their business can just be taken down. If you use Gmail to write to clients, Google can—or not Google, but Gmail, I guess Google too could be taken down for abetting prostitution. I mean, obviously they’re not going to take down Google, but it’s just really scary, scary implications. And I think a bit way I’ve seen the consequences of FOSTA/SESTA, primarily for myself, and different places that I’ve worked, as well as friends and people that I’ve known, is that it really is taking away autonomy from sex workers. Websites such as Backpage really allowed a lot of sex workers to be able to go to indoor work, which is a lot safer for us, and not everybody can afford to go on some of these advertising platforms that have been affected by FOSTA/SESTA, but not as much. So Backpage was a really—I mean, obviously it had some problems, but it was a pretty good way to make a living for people who might not have had the money for photoshoots, might not have had the money to pay so much to get on some of these other advertising platforms. It allowed sex workers to have control over our advertising and the way that we work, and just having that taken away from us is really, it’s just heart-breaking. And a lot of sex workers who can’t work in brothels because—or strip clubs, or in other ways of working, working for someone else, whether they be a migrant, whether they be black, whether they not be a certain size, because a lot of these workplaces have very, very racist and transphobic and fatphobic ways of hiring. Working on Backpage was kind of like, again, like I said, it’s not perfect, but it’s helps so much because really it allows sex workers to have control over the way that we work and not rely on these exploitative workplaces. I also have to say, for myself, as someone with Asperger’s, having access to sex worker communities online really shaped the way that I worked. I’ve never worked without the Internet. You know, I’m pretty much a child of the Internet. I grew up on the Internet. So the way that I communicate with people is through the Internet. It’s quite hard for myself, and I know a lot of people, to sometimes communicate with others. So having the Internet as a tool to communicate with other sex workers is really a lifeline. Especially when I first got started, I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know what a sex worker was, I didn’t know anything about how to do anything. But having these resources online, and the fact knowing that FOSTA/SESTA can away these communities, it’s just really going to harm a lot of people. And I think the intended consequences of this, as has been stated before, is just social cleansing to get sex workers out of the public space and to get rid of us. A way that some of us have responded to this, myself specifically, is I’ve decided to become face-out as a sex worker, which obviously has some risks, and I kind of was forced to be outed as other people in the panel have said. But I think being face-out is, for me, it’s kind of a form of resistance, saying, “No. I’m going to be visible. I have a right to be here.” And I think the consequences of FOSTA/SESTA, people are becoming more hidden and things like that. Obviously, being face-out is a privilege that I have, and I know a lot of people don’t have, but I think it’s just one of these ways that people can fight back this if they have this privilege. I can’t say I haven’t seen this coming. I haven’t been working as long as some other people on this panel. I’ve been working for about five or six years, but just growing up in America in the mid 2000s, late 2000s—America is where FOSTA/SESTA is implemented, but it impacts all of us—but just growing up in America, I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen on television these programmes about young from suburbs taken by big scary black men to the city and were put up on Backpage, and Backpage was like this big feature of it. And, to be honest, with that hysteria, I really can’t be shocked that this bill came along, especially since they tried to justify it by saying that they’re protecting children by getting rid of Backpage and other advertising platforms, but really they’re making it less visible so people who are exploiting people into sex work are people who people who are exploiting children, they’re going to still be horrible people, while it’s just becoming less visible for them to take down. And they haven’t, the US government haven’t released anything saying that FOSTA/SESTA—I mean, even if they did, I don’t know if I would believe it—but they haven’t released anything saying that FOSTA/SESTA has helped these so called people they say that they’re trying to save. Additionally, I can’t say I’m really surprised because in America they’re amping up surveillance of a lot of different groups. Notably, one that comes into mind is what they call “black identity extremists”, and this was basically coined by the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, in 2014, and this came after the rise of Black Lives Matter and other black people organising online. And not just the CIA but also bad actors like Russian—I don’t know what they’re called, KGB or something—they’re involved in this as well, and they’re surveilling black people online and who organise for Black Lives Matter, police brutality, other things like that. And people who use black vernacular English have found their accounts to be surveilled by the government. And because of this term, “black identity extremists”, a lot of people who are involved in these movements have found the police come to their house and kind of—I’ve seen some cases of people being taken away, and they haven’t done anything, they haven’t made any threats, but just because they’re organising with black people, they’re considered to be extremists. And I think we’re going to see this more and more in the future with social media, not just with FOSTA/SESTA, not just with sex workers, but with all different groups, because they’re kind of saying, “Look, you know, we want to control the way ideas are transmitted and the Internet is a way for people to communicate and give ideas." So by scaring people, essentially—I don’t know, I think we’re just going to see more of these laws come about. And it is really scary, because, for me personally, I’ve gone through great measures to hide my identity online, before even being face-out—like my real name, stuff like that. I’ve never used that online, yet suddenly I get a police welfare check in England and they know my full name, they know my university, they know all these things, and it’s just really scary that we don’t, as Juno said before, we don’t know what they’re looking for, why they want to talk to use in particular. So, yeah, I think this panel will be interesting. I’m really interested to have a dialogue on this and what we can do to combat these things. Thank you! [Audience applauds]
00:54:22 HH Okay, so we’ve got about thirty-five minutes until the end of this, so let’s maybe do twenty minutes of discussion. Thank you all so much for four very thought-provoking ways into this whole issue of technology, surveillance, the state and resistance. Since there’s been quite a lot of discussion about legislation, I think maybe that’s a good place to start. What were the warning signs, do you think, that these kinds of legislative developments were in the pipeline? So, FOSTA/SESTA, the UK mandatory age checks for porn, was there anything that gave us a clue that it was coming, or was it a complete ambush?
00:55:21 JM For a while before FOSTA happened, like going back a few years now, there have been efforts to intercept data from major sex work advertising sites. In 2013, a site called “My Red Book” went down, for example. Lots of raids on a website called “Rent Men”, or rentboy.com? Rentboy.com. So it wasn’t unprecedented. I think the state has long been onto the idea that data is where it’s at in terms of gaining control over sex workers. I also think that obviously there’s been this long arc for a while now, the rise of the war on trafficking, trafficking as the ultimate spectre of fear and violence, ostensibly as a way to keep people safe, but really as a smokescreen for anti-immigration policies. And so, I think that, coupled with things like the Snooper’s Charter, and whisperings from state’s governments all around the world of trying to get control of communities via tech, it was likely to happen. I think also, increasingly, I think states are aware that repressive mechanisms that clamp down on sex workers look vicious and brutal, and that in the era of the war on trafficking, it’s better to save sex workers than to crush them. FOSTA—I mean, I’ve always said this, I think FOSTA makes persecution of sex workers much more clean and tidy. It doesn’t involve truncheons, it doesn’t involve tasers. All it involves is asking the websites that we use to silently snuff us out. It doesn’t look the way the sex worker persecution looks like in other countries, where people are bundled into vans and left in cells or left or dead by the side of the street, or marched through communities receiving public justice. Like, that actually happens in other parts of the world. FOSTA/SESTA, and the version of it that I’m sure Theresa May would love to bring in, kind of makes the whole thing silent and outsources that dirty work of taking care of us and getting us out of the way, away from the police and into websites’ hands. And that’s unfortunate for us because it will be, it’s harder to get a public reaction. For me as an activist, there’s been times where I’ve felt a little bit like, “Why aren’t you paying attention? We’re losing access to websites like Twitter,” and people are a bit like, “Yeah, but Twitter’s only just for looking at memes,” and it’s like, “No, no, no. Sex workers really need it. It sounds trivial, but it’s really important.” And for sex workers who use Backpage, it’s like the difference between working indoors and outdoors, as you said. So, it’s one of those examples of how what’s important to sex workers doesn’t always immediately look important to other people, but it will be important when they lose it.
00:58:37 CM I just wanted to add about what you said about the trafficking. What’s interesting about the trafficking narrative is it’s reflected in the media. So I don’t know whether the media starts producing images that create the trafficking narrative, that inform the political narrative, but if you look back in the 1990s, especially in Canada, a lot of the media photographs were about prostitution and sex work, about being seen dirty, and cleaning up the streets. So therefore, a lot of the policies were about cleaning up the streets. And it’s the same thing that’s playing out, and this is where the photography connects in to the legislation. It’s the landscape, the media-scape, the cinema-scape is shaping the political response.
00:59:25 HH Thank you. Okay, let’s think then about sort of non-legislative developments as well. So, there could be anything from difficulties with online payment processing systems, to Tumblr—we haven’t talked, touched on the fact that Tumblr no longer hosts adult content. Is this part of the same crackdown? Is there kind of a spectrum of a new form of sort of soft policing of sex work, do we think?
00:59:57 ? Yeah, another thing that—oh! Sorry!
00:59:57 JM Happened—that’s okay. It’s a good idea, really. At the same as FOSTA/SESTA came out was the… I forget the name of it, but it was the restriction on banking for human traffickers, which passed in the House of Reps, I’m not sure about its progress since then. But basically, what that’s doing is shutting down the bank accounts of—it’s supposed to target extreme traffickers. I’ve only heard of it shutting down sex workers bank accounts, so far. And it’s really insidious, because again the state is outsourcing the labour to others entities that have a significant amount of power. In this case, banks. And banks say, “Well, we’ve identified this cluster of bank accounts in New York City. All of them receive regularly this cash transfer from this one account that we think is a client." So the client is the vector of the problem, but only the bank accounts of the sex workers are shut down. Do they shut down the client’s bank account? No, because the client’s how they find more sex workers. And if that is an example of the, isn’t representative of the entire problem with the way sex worker is policed around the world, like, “Leave clients alone, and go for sex workers and find and surveil sex workers through the activities of the clients.” Tumblr is an interesting one because I think a lot of people—I think people saw through FOSTA/SESTA as being fundamentally about persecuting sex workers, but a lot of people seem to buy that Tumblr went down because of child porn, and that goes to show how provocative that idea is, the idea that we’re shutting down Tumblr’s adult content to protect children. Tumblr took down the adult content because they lost their app because they had to capitulate to Apple to keep the app in the App Store. Apple are capitulating to FOSTA/SESTA. It’s the same thing going on there. But I thought it was interesting to note at the time how many people really bought into the idea that it was because of child porn. As if people who create indecent images of children, as if people who traffic other human beings into prostitution are deterred in any way by the loss of these platforms. You know, it’s a little bit like saying, “Well, people do illegal things on public transport, so we’re going to shut down the Tube. There are other ways to get around.” And the only people really harmed by the loss of these platforms are people who operate independently, sex workers trying to make a living. Human traffickers have networks outside of Backpage, outside of things like Tumblr. That’s the whole point of being a network of nefarious traffickers. They existed before the Internet, they’ll continue to exist. I mean, if I can buy weed on the Dark Web, you know, your trafficking gangs will, they will proliferate and evolve. Please don’t put that video online! [Laughs] So—but sex workers can’t just easily pop over to the Dark Web. Why? Because, yeah, a lot of us are isolated; we don’t talk to people when we first start doing sex work, we’re on our own. But most importantly, we can’t casually find our clients on the Dark Web because our clients aren’t on the Dark Web. So, if you want to take it upon yourself to try to obtain sex with a child, maybe you’ll learn how to use the Dark Web for that, but most clients won’t. A lot of clients are, they stumble at that hurdle, or they’ll seek other ways of buying sex in less restrictive contexts. The way that I know a lot of Swedish and Norwegian clients just come to the UK to buy sex. I see that in my client base a lot. So, it’s not really so much that those states are finding ways to fix the problem with sex work. They’re just moving it around.
01:04:07 AJ I also think that with us it makes sex work more inaccessible to people because, like I said, Backpage, even Tumblr, had a lot of great information on how to do sex work safely. I know when I was first starting out, I really relied on Tumblr guides and things like that. Having those publicly out on the Internet makes sex work a lot more accessible for people who are involved in it or going to, or deciding to be into sex work. However, getting rid of, I think getting rid of Backpage is also a way of kind of getting rid of these kind of like these working-class sex workers, because obviously it impacts all of us, but I think people who maybe might be more of a richer socio-economic class, or may charge more, may present as more socially acceptable, they might be able to find other, there’ll be easier ways to find other ways to work. Whereas for just average sex worker, I think they just want to get rid of people—I don’t know, I think it’s a way of kind of separating within sex work, which ones are accessible or which ones are kind of okay, you know, we’ll leave alone, and which ones we just don’t want to see.
01:05:33 HH Thank you. Thank you. Okay, I think one sort of strand that’s been running through a lot of this discussion is this idea of recognition or visibility being one side of the coin, and then surveillability being the other; the difficulty of navigating that. How can we approach that tension between visibility and surveillability and what are the concrete implications of this tension for sex workers or for other marginalised communities? I wonder if anybody could speak to that.
01:06:13 CM I’m going to be really pessimistic and say you can’t. I think, historically, sex workers are so used to being seen, it’s not possible to be visible without being under surveillance. And I’ll use the example of clients. Why are there no photographic projects about clients? Why are there no surveillance projects of Google Street images of men? I mean, there’s a few, but you don’t get photographers concealing their identities for six years, stalking straight sex workers in the guise of creating a photographic work of art that then is turned into an applauded work of art. Men get to remain invisible. It’s the same with heterosexual straight sellers of sex, or their visual representation—and in fact I posted on Twitter, “I’ll give someone fifteen grand”—and something else! [Laughs]—“fifteen thousand if you can produce the elusive image in the media of the man as the victim.” And it just doesn’t happen, because I don’t—I know this is incredibly pessimistic—but we don’t have the capacity to exist as sex workers without being unseen, and without being watched. You would have to undo thousands of years of erotic art history to make us the viewer, not the seen. And which is why, in my research, I’m only working with visual data that already exists. And this applies to any marginalised group. There is enough visual data being created every single day without someone from outside that community stepping in to ask to take their photographs. We don’t need another photographic essay of the way other people see sex workers, because sex workers can tell us the way that they see. But the idea of the sex worker being in control of their image is why that I don’t think it’s ever going to be possible to not be seen without being surveilled. Does that make sense? Which is, comes back to what I say about SESTA and FOSTA. You know, well, we can see you in art, and we can see you in galleries, and we’re quite happy to turn a blind eye when we see you walking to and from the brothel to work, but we’ll be damned if we want to see you in an online space. And then if you’re going to exist in an online space, then it’s open warfare. You put yourself out there, you’re going to be criticised, and I don’t actually think… I don’t actually think we had advanced in humanity enough to not, to look at a sex worker without going, “Oh, but…”, without this wanting to know more about the person—this is why, do you know I think it’s an incredibly bold and brave act to exist in an online space, because you put your face out there, people automatically want to connect the dots. You’ve got facial… you know, there’s apps where you can put a face photograph of someone that you suspect is a trafficking, and then that [laughs] scours all the escort ads online. So it’s not possible, I don’t actually think— because, and it’s also about the edginess of otherness. People get so fascinated by transgressive communities because I think there’s something about, that person has tapped into something that’s ordinary and I want to be a part of that. Which is why I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter, because I use Twitter to connect with the sex work community, which has been amazing, but you get such a voyeuristic gaze on you. People are just fascinated with you. Even with my research, I get two responses: people are just, “Oh!”, over-excited about it, or people are really repelled by it, which is why I put the word “whoretography” everywhere I can. [Laughs] But, no, I don’t think it is possible for to exist in online spaces without being… because we’re not seen as other—I mean, we’re seen as “other”, we’re not seen as “them”. And we’re always going to be on the outskirts, because society, we’re not capable of not looking at what other people are doing as something sort of judgement call about that person’s lifestyle.
01:10:56 JM The question really reminds me as well about something that was really, really making me sweat last year which fear, and that came up a lot around…. It was in the same period of time that FOSTA happened, there was also a big raid on eros.com, another major advertising platform that still stands, but it lost, all of the data that it was holding was seized by Homeland Security. And now Homeland security with the legal names of everyone who advertised on Eros, and that has been shared at every port of entry that sex workers are now travelling into, and a lot of people are being detained and sent back at the US border when they go over there to travel. And that’s really terrifying. It can completely destroy a person’s life, because they call your family as well when you’re detained, you get banned from travelling to the states long-term, like ten years. So, yeah, it’s happened to a few friends of mine, and it’s hideous. But that is made extra hideous by the fact that, as activists, how can we talk about that repressive state mechanism without literally handing a weapon to oppressive people? Like stalkers, for example, clients who harass us, ex-clients, ex-boyfriends. There’s literally a snitch button on the Homeland Security website, where you can go and you can say, “So-and-so is travelling to the States, and they’re a prostitute.” How can we talk publicly about that vulnerability of ours without suggesting it as an idea to people who want to hurt us? The same is true of talking in any activist context about things that sex workers are vulnerable to. Like I remember when I was newer to activism, I stood up at a rally and I talked about the fact that after a police raid, people in brothels don’t want to call the police on robbers or aggressive clients. And somebody pointed out to me that, anybody who read that in the paper the following day might go and rob a brothel, because they knew that these raids had just happened, and I was like, “Shit!” That which we need—we need the exposure, we need people to be able to see us, so we can make a living, so we can talk about our politics—but it also puts us in danger. It’s like fundamentally what helps us also hurts us, and after the spate of deportations that were happening when Canadian and British escorts were trying to go to America, I had an argument with an American sex worker activist who wanted to make this known, who wanted to be like, “We need to fight this! We need to publicise what Homeland Security is doing!” And I was like, “Yeah, can you not, because I want to travel to the States next week and I don’t want my stalker to get… you know, he probably watches everything that’s happening on Twitter.” But it’s a conundrum, because how can we fight it if we can’t talk about it? And, yeah, it’s the same with the whole face-out thing. You want to show your face in order to entice more people to pay to have sex with you but showing your face might get you rejected in your communities, it might lose you custody of your children, it might lose you your other jobs. So, yeah, I don’t know how to square that circle, really.
01:14:22 GMB I guess I was just going to say something more generic about surveillability, especially because I did all doom and gloom and then nothing else. And I guess I would be interested to know how sex workers and other people use encrypted, like, to what extent encryption is actually useful and encrypted stuff is useful. Because I was just going to talk through the fact that for—so there are loads of techie people, and people who are alarmed about state surveillance and stuff, and we will use certain tools, we will use certain technologies so that we’re less visible to the state. But that obviously just marks certain people out as being worried about state surveillance, and so it’s actually really important that everybody does it. Because there are some things that you can do, and obviously no platform, no tool is a hundred percent secure—I would never vouch on that basis—but some are safer than others, and especially depending on what your threat model is. Obviously, a particular sex worker’s threat model is going to be different to the threat model of, I don’t know, say like, a Muslim academic who is researching terrorism, for example. People are going to have different threat models and you have to adapt what you do accordingly. But I would say, as a default, people should be using encrypted services. Twitter DMs are not end-to-end encrypted—don’t use them; it’s not good. Signal, for example, is end-to-end encrypted. Whatsapp uses the same protocol as Signal, but obviously WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, and Facebook is really interested in who you talk to, even if it can’t see what you say. So Whatsapp, less secure than Signal. DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t save your searches. Google saves every search that you do. DuckDuckGo, it doesn’t save your searches; it’s really easy to delete them all, and it doesn’t share your search data with the websites that you then visit. So, Google, it’ll be like, I don’t know, someone looked for holidays in Ibiza, and then when go—I don’t know why I thought of that! [Laughs] Okay, maybe that’s—
01:16:37 JM? Are you watching me? I see you.
01:16:42 GMB So yeah, and then they’ll tell Booking.com that this is the search term that led the person to this thing, and that’ll be linked to your Google profile, etcetera. Browsers, again, Google Chrome; obviously, the default bar on Google Chrome is Google search, so everything will be logged. You can use Tor. You can also use Brave Browser, which uses the Tor protocol, but is much faster. So if you go on, use a private window with Tor in Brave, for some reason it’s much faster than if you just use Tor. And use a VPN. Obviously, if you use a VPN, that will mean that your Internet service provider can’t see all your traffic, but it means that you have to trust your VPN provider, because they can see all your traffic. I use Tunnel Bear, they don’t store any of your data, you don’t have to give an email—you don’t have to identify yourself to make an account to use it. And there are websites, like Security In A Box, and Tactical Tech, that basically take you through how to do the stuff, because, yeah, I started working on the Data Protection Bill a couple of years ago, freaked out, was paralysed, and then was like, “I don’t have any time to do any of this stuff.” Some of it’s quite complicated. But actually, I remember one Christmas holiday, I was like, “I’m going to set up the encryption on my emails.” And it’s taken until like two months ago for me to get to get a password manager, but the odd afternoon here and there, and you get better and better. So I mean there are some things that you can do, and also the extent that you can, minimise the data that you give. If you don’t have to give a real date of birth, don’t—I mean, I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted, but don’t do it. If you don’t have to create an account to buy the thing, or if you can just go to the shop and buy it with cash, like do that, that’s great. So there are small things that you can do, which are obviously in large part, and to some extent, inadequate, but I think it’s important that more and more people do those things to protect the people that really, really need to do those things. And then the other thing I was going to say—I’m sorry, it only came into my head after we stopped talking about legislation—but, I know we’ve talked a lot about SESTA/FOSTA, and we haven’t talked about Online Harms. Has anyone heard about the Online Harms white paper? Okay, a couple of people. So a white paper is what comes before a draft piece of legislation, so we’re quite early in the process, but the government, the UK government, has published a white paper on online harms. And it’s essentially the government’s proposal for regulating the Internet, and the big concern is that, where the UK government goes—I mean, I think it’s a bit of a like, I don’t know, a bit of post-imperial arrogance—but anyway, the concern is that where the UK goes, other governments will follow. And the point is is that it would impose on social media companies, and it’s actually broader than social media platforms, but it would impose a duty to protect users from online harm, and to take responsibility for content or activity on their services. And what’s really—so I read the thing, and I was like, “It’s all over the place.” And I realised now that part of that is because it’s half Home Office, and half Digital Culture, Media and Sport, and it just mashed them together. So, half of it is like terrorist content, gangs and stuff that glamorises violence, and like child sexual exploitation, and then some of it is like trolling, bullying, harassment, disinformation, and it’s all been mashed together in one proposal. And all the way through you see this phrase of “illegal and unacceptable content”, and they are completely not the same thing. And that the government has proposed that there will actually be a regulator that polices whether or not companies are complying with their obligations. I often think of Liberty’s role, to some extent—apart from, you know, lobbying parliamentarians and doing press stuff—as kind of coming to more grassroot spaces and saying, “This thing has happened. You might not have noticed. You might want to think what to do about that.” So, hopefully I’ve fulfilled some of that duty in saying that.
01:20:55 HH Yeah, thank you, Gracie. And thank you for talking about how to resist, as well, in some sort of quite concrete terms. Very important. I think, as well, in your earlier comments you pointed towards different skillsets being brought to bear on particular issues. So the need for a kind of ecology of organisation, where actually technologists, and visual artists, and activists from different spheres, and educators and academics try and figure out how we can be of service to you, as sex workers, and those lobbying for sex workers’ rights, as far as possible, figuring out how we can tackle things holistically through these different perspectives, as far as possible. Okay, so we have about ten minutes left. I think it’s time to throw it open to the floor for some questions. I can see we’ve got one over here. Shall I take them in sort of batches of two or three? So, one, two, three. Start over there, thank you.
01:22:06 Q1 [inaudible] Oh yeah—and concerning, but also like, it just is the truth. I just wanted to mention two other bits of legislation. So, if people have seen the impact of the Anti-Money Laundering Bill, and the new obligations that puts on accountants to verify where money is coming from from their clients. And so, I’m sure some of you will know Arian Bloodwood and Bloodwood Accounting, but Arian does online sessions around security and privacy and accounting. And so, if people have concerns about that then look up Bloodwood Accounting. And the other question I have was about the EU Copyright Directive, which is going to have to be incorporated into UK law, which is going to put an obligation—it has various things, it’s completely unworkable—but various things, including an obligation on platforms to stop people posting plagiarised content, which is going to, it can potentially bring in a whole other level of surveillance and that being another thing that would obviously impact on sex workers and everybody. But I wonder if that’s also a place where the link between the impact that it has on a whole range of different communities, and the free speech impacts, might be more easy to tie together, or to tie together all these different pieces of legislation.
01:23:35 HH Thank you, that’s great. And there was a comment over here. Or a question.
01:23:43 Q2 First, sorry, my English is not very good. If you don’t understand, if someone speaks Spanish, it could be more easy for me. I… sorry?
01:23:57 ? [inaudible]
01:23:59 Q2 Oh, okay. [Laughs] Then you can hear me. First, I feel that what is happening on Internet is not very different than what had been happening on the street always. I don’t know the history here in England, but in Latin America sex workers still working on the streets, and the strategies that they have to resist to police, government and so on, is community, is to stick together, is helping each others. Then I feel that that could be the best to resist also on Internet. Because I feel I am very surprised the level of organisation here in UK, but I also feel that here people still being very individualistic. It’s very, very hard working community here in this country. And that is not because of the government, and it’s not because of the police. It’s because of the, each individual how perceive the way that we all relationship each others. Then I feel a good to resist on Internet as well could be make communities because we can empowerment in technology as well, we can build our websites, we can get more clients. But it’s very hard when you are alone. It’s hard in the city, that is it’s hard to survive, then it’s very necessary doing together.
01:26:14 HH Thank you, thank you. And then I will just take one more for this round. There was somebody slightly further back. Yes.
01:26:23 Q3 Thanks. Yeah, fascinating panel. Thank you so much. Actually, conveniently, my question is basically a question version of this person’s comment, which is: How can online community, sex workers organise online to resist to resist technological surveillance, basically?
01:26:43 CM It’s already starting to happen—I’m sorry, I don’t mean to… It’s already starting to happen. You see pockets of undocumented sex workers highjacking civilian women hashtags to go under the shadow ban, yeah to get under the shadow ban. You’re seeing—and I’m seeing this because I’m speaking to sex workers. I see pockets of creative resistance that, when you string them together, you do see a rhythmic pattern coming out, but I don’t see something that’s organised on an overall scale. You see sex workers forming their own—and I can only speak in terms of photography—you see sex workers forming their own photographic collectives to create and share content, you see sex workers creating their own directories to manage outside of the confines of massive organisations like Adult Work. You do have something called Switter; I’m not particularly a fan of Switter because I think to me it feels like it’s a bit reactive. It’s like when someone breaks up with you, they say, “I don’t love you anymore,” and your response is, “Well, I don’t love you either. I’ll leave.” It feels like… Switter to me feels like we’ve pushed ourselves off to the Internet because we’re unwelcome. But there are people resisting, but I don’t think it’s talked about because of what Juno speaks to about, you don’t want to talk about this because you don’t want to get anyone into trouble, because once they start banning the sex worker hashtags, they’re going to move on to civilian women hashtags, and then we’re back in the same problem.
01:28:28 JM When FOSTA first happened, a lot of people were really scared, because the loosey-goosey wording of the legislation didn’t fill anyone with confidence that platforms where sex workers just talked to one another were going to be allowed to remain. If they wanted to implement the law in such a way that activists’ networks were shut down, that could have happened, and maybe that was—yeah, that’s why these things are so loosely worded as well sometimes, to allow maximum flexibility on who gets to be surveilled. If this white paper was passed as a bill and written into law, it could easily target websites where sex workers help each other stay safe. It already, in this country, is illegal to help another person to start doing sex work, and that law worded loosely enough that just giving somebody advice on how to find clients is inciting them into prostitution, which could easily come under the banner of exposing someone to harm because you could be pimping them out. So community is never to be taken for granted, and I think I’ve always wanted the sex worker community to have multiple ways of reaching each other and being together. You know, we could, at any moment, we could lose safe.info, the former website that almost every hooker in this country has spent a good few hours on minimum. We could lose the Facebook group that I know, like, five-hundred or so people are now in, and you… like, it could all go like that. And I think being together, like the person who made the comment said, I do think it would be good to, in a climate of increasing tech surveillance, move back into a mode of being with one another in real life, like at this conference, and cultivating real life connections. Not only because that is in many ways safer and more nourishing, but also because the class implications of doing everything online does exclude people from the movement that I think, if you go back ten or fifteen years in the UK, the demographic of who was organising in sex worker spaces was much more heavily focused around people who worked in the street. And that’s one significant problem with the internetisation of the politics, is that like not every is working online, and in other parts of the world the sex worker movement is hugely made up of people who do street work. I spoke to an activist in the summer in Amsterdam at the AIDS conference, who was kind of, not amused, but she, a Thai activist, who wryly commented on the fact that FOSTA/SESTA is like all anyone can talk about in the West because it took the Internet away from people, and she was like, “It didn’t really make a ripple where we are because nobody’s working online.” And the problems that are now being faced by some people who work indoors who now go outdoors, all of the violences that people get exposed to when they’re doing street work, those problems didn’t like, they have been the case all along, and I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that as we lose our freedoms on the Internet, things like police violence, things like Stop and Search, and deportations, those problems remain, in many ways they’ve also gotten worse. So, prohibition against prostitution didn’t just happen last April, you know, that’s not when it was invented, despite what some top-class American escorts would have you believe.
01:32:25 CM Can I just say one thing? There are—because I know a lot of the way that they find a lot of sex workers is to read the photographs. So I’m seeing really interesting is that [laughs] you’re seeing sex workers inadvertently redefine what it means to sell sex online through photography, because they’re morphing their photography to look more like mainstream Instagram influencers, so they’re photographs aren’t being tagged. For instance, like, like bringing BDSM out of the dungeon and putting it in a brightly lit hotel room. That to me is visual activism. It might sound small, and it might sound like a sellout that you’re trying to blend in with civilian women, but to me that’s one way to have a little photographic rebellion as a “Stuff you!” to the state, and to still exist in space, and still make money. I’ve also found, do you know, there’s street sex workers who post the photographs of the cars that they get into in WhatsApp groups and on Twitter, so they can, do you know, as a safety mechanism. So it’s, yeah, it’s a bit, yeah. That’s all I want to say.
01:33:49 HH Yeah, I think we’re just about out of time. I think in the face of a lot of sobering points today, I think something that’s very heartening is that there is an ongoing commitment to political struggle and to collectively addressing these things. So, I’d like to thank all four speakers for their fantastic contributions and to SWARM for hosting. [Audience applauds]
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