C.S.: Could you now please report on the topic of "security?"
N.M.: You should really ask Christine... One part of the discussion revolved around technology and the use and types of cryptography, specifically the Palladium story. By using Palladium, Microsoft can spy on private pcs, check the installed software, and remotely destroy pirated software. This alone raises a lot of questions about security on the internet, as well as censorship. Tony Bunyan(from Statewatch) spoke of governments that are putting "unlawful" and unconstitutional laws into place since September 11. By using "international terrorism" as their reason for implementing these dangerous laws, many governments, together with media, create and propagate societal fear.
C.S.: Could you give an example of this?
N.M.: One simple example is the law that coordinates all the European police forces (implemented by European politicians), and Europol. Another law concerns data retention. Who should keep what record and for how long?
Hence at this year's Zelig, there was a presentation on "no-log", a system that guarrantees the privacy of a user's data through crytopgraphy and without registration. What's different from any other anonymizer is that this is being done precisely in response to the data retention laws, hence, they can and will not keep any log.
C.S.: Now we should finally talk about the "cyberfem" track?
N.M.: The open mic/fem demo done with the mailing list "faces" during ISEA two years ago definitively put things on the map here. During this year's Zelig, the "cyberfem" discussion was part of the conference program (a first!)along with the technical workshops, discussions and presentations. We also had an open microphone session because I think it is important for women to get to know each other, and to find out about each other's activities. The problem with the open-mic format is also its strength. Since you don't select who speaks, you cannot avoid having, ummmmmm, weaker work being presented. Many wonderful women came, and important new connections were made on a one-on-one basis. Afterwards we had a fiesta organized by Beatrice Rettig at EOF, an artist space, where we had an excellent line-up of women djs. It was a terrific program to have the open mic first, then the fiesta. On the practical front, we had two genderchangers workshops- one was about taking apart and putting together computer hardware, the other was about free software, especially linux.
Peggy Pierrot organized the public conversation between Milica from "Zeena ne delu" (Serbia), and Laurence from "constant" in Brussels. This discussion confronted two different experiments with women working with new technologies coming from very different perspectives, but crossing at several points. What I liked about both was their critical approach to technology. There were interested not just in training women, but also in raising a critical consciousness about the use of technology. And then we had the star from Hamburg...[ironic]
C.S.: Who was that?
N.M.: She said she was not an anarchist, but a cyberfeminist, and she did a wonderful job in local recruitment.
C.S.: What did she talk about?
N.M.: She talked about "The tacticial use of terms" in general, and then applied her theory by applying it to Cyberfeminism. The whole talk is on our website.
Very often the audience feels provoked and reacts aggressively when it comes to gender issues, for different reasons. Some people associate clichés about feminism also with cyberfeminism, others get angry exactly when those clichés, and stereotyped rhetoric is being questioned. But she is very good in handling all kind of strange dynamics, and has a lot of experience with it-she does not get angry any more. She presented the lecture in a performative way which was nice. There were four people reading the lecture in French; herself, myself, and two boys who had helped to translate her talk into French. It was very cute when the boys read parts saying "my experience as a cyberfeminist" etc. It became a statement about roles and language. It also brought translators, who usually do work unnoticed in the background, to the foreground.
This issue is not really a critical part of cyberfeminism, but related to it. I must mention the "yesmen" presentation. It was good to have them in the program. They provided feedback on the use of technology for political activism, tactical politics, and masquerade as a form of subversion. All of these are commonly shared interests with cyberfeminists. They also announced the difficulties The Thing was having.
C.S.: Back to Zelig. Could you tell me what the outcome of the conference was?
N.M.: One important result was the wonderful visibility cyberfeminists had at such a meeting. These meetings are usually 99% boys. In my humble opinion, the cyberfeminist discussion was a total success. It informed everyone that there women using technology, that they want it, they can do it, and they are conscious about what they're doing. It was the first time-since I returned from the US-that it was not a struggle for me to claim that presence in a boy's group.
We managed to print a paper before the conference. This is always a good propaganda tool. The web site has most of the intervention in French, English, some Italian, and Spanish (www.zelig.org).
C.S.: What I am interested in now, is to go back a bit in time. What is the history behind or before Zelig.
N.M.: Zelig is closely related to a site called 'Samizdat', which collates a variety of French mailing lists that address political issues. This site also hosts Multitudes, an academic publication in French, which is affiliated with Hard-Negri's thinking.
Two years ago, "mini-reseau" was prominent. They are responsible for coding and developing SPIP: a very popular French open publishing software, soon to come up in different languages.
The first Zelig conference facilitated the first physical meeting of this diverse group of people. It occurred after a very important event that shook the entire non-commercial internet in France. One of the most prominent hosts of non-commercial sites "altern", was attacked (see www.comite-altern.sgdg.org/), and had been many times before. This particular time, they almost got him. One of the sites he hosted contained an image of a nude, 20 yearold woman. She is now a semi-star.
By making this available, Altern was making the statement that "technicians are not judges; they are not responsible for ethical judgement, technicians are technicians". The implication is that if commercial technicians start to make ethical judgments, they will cut access as soon as a "problem" arises. Altern insisted that a judge should make such decisions, not a technician. This is not to say that technicians have brains and can develop politically pertinent projects (such as no-log), but that is another issue.
At this time there was only one non-merchant server in France-a terrible situation indeed. In response to this, Valentin Lacambre (director of Altern), donated all of his software in order to create a server to "lautre," a cooperative. Everybody was very shaken because we realized Altern could have been closed. All this simply because an opportunist wanted to make money. This story happened three or four years ago and made everybody think carefully about the law.
C.S.: Was it before the first Zelig conference?
C.S.: You have also mentioned a project that some of the French people do in Africa...
N.M.: Yes. It's AlternC. AlternC consists of software for housing and server management. It's easy to use and easy to install and is based on free software only. AlternC is free software itself. Hence Globenet (one of the organisers of Zelig) is developing relations with Sub- Saharan Africa in order provide access to and control of their information. This would allow them to stop needing to transmit via occidental countries such as the USA.
C.S.: You say that the situation in France has changed. What do you think French people would or could contribute to an international network of media activists like the upcoming n5m conference?
N.M.: Definitely, alternC, spip, no-log, experiences with independent media, security watch, European legislation, and certainly cyberfems.
We are at a point now where the whole issue of surveillance, control and the merging of different databases is quite frightening. We should start connecting with artists and activists from different countries and discuss our positions on these topics in order to be able to resist. This is especially important because there will be European laws around these issues. I don't think it should be left only to official politicians and lawyers to settle these issues. There should definitely be a broader discussion. In that sense, it might be a good thing to have some French people participating at n5m.
Many thanks for proof-reading and editing to:
Rachel Greene (raw version)
Heidi Kumao (finalizing)
Published on 'nettime' mailinglist and [oldboys]- list, April 9, 2004