Interpersonal Communication

If you or your affinity group is making plans which might attract unwanted attention from the police (or if you are trying to coordinate with other groups) it might be useful to communicate in ways they can’t intercept. We can’t provide hard and fast rules for communicating the organisation of a networked resistance to G20 but we’ve got a few things we think might be useful but the ways we communicate will have to be determined by our circumstances. First and foremost; stay safe! If you have a strong security culture in place they won’t be able to infiltrate your group.

A security culture is a set of customs shared by a community whose members may be targeted by the government, designed to minimise risk.

A good security culture should make everyone feel more relaxed and confident, not less.

Having a security culture in place saves everyone the trouble of having to work out safety measures over from scratch, and can help offset paranoia and panic in stressful situations. If you’re in the habit of not giving away anything sensitive about yourself, you can collaborate with strangers without having to agonise over whether or not they are informers; if everyone know what not to talk about over the telephone, your enemies can tap the line all they want and it won’t get them anywhere.

Don’t ask others to share confidential information you don’t need to know. Don’t brag about illegal things you or others have done, or mention things that are going to happen or might happen; don’t let chance allusions drop out thoughtlessly. Likewise, don’t answer any questions you don’t want to-not just with police officers, but also with other activists and even close friends; if there’s something you don’t feel safe sharing, don’t. This also means being comfortable with other not answering questions: if there’s a conversation they want to keep to themselves, or they ask you to not be a part of a meeting or project, you shouldn’t take this personally – it’s for everyone’s good that they’re free to do so.

Small groups can take walks and chat; larger groups can meet in quiet outdoor settings – go hiking or camping, if there’s time – or in private rooms in public buildings, such as library study rooms or empty classrooms.

Be conscious of how long you’ve known people, how far back their involvement in your community and their lives outside of it can be traced, and what others’ experiences with them have been. Make sure only to trust your safety and the safety of your projects to level-headed folks who share the same priorities and commitments and have nothing to prove.

Security concerns should never be an excuse for making others feel left out or inferior – though it can take some finesse to avoid that! – just as no one should feel they have a “right” to be in on anything others prefer to keep to themselves. Those who violate the security culture of their communities should not be rebuked too harshly the first time – this isn’t a question of being hip enough to activist decorum to join the in-group, but of establishing group expectations and gently helping people understand their importance; besides, people are least able to absorb constructive criticism when they’re put on the defensive. Nevertheless, such people should always be told immediately how they’re putting others at risk, and what the consequences will be should they continue to. Those who can’t grasp this must be tactfully but effectively shut out of all sensitive situations.

Learning to gauge the risks posed by an activity or situation and how to deal with them appropriately is not just a crucial part of staying out of jail; it also helps to know what you’re not worried about, so you don’t waste energy on unwarranted, cumbersome security measures. Keep in mind that a given action may have different aspects that demand different degrees of security; make sure to keep these distinct. Here’s an example of a possible rating system for security levels:

  1. Only those who are directly involved in the action know of its existence.
  2. Trusted support persons also know about the action, but everyone decides together who these will be.
  3. It is acceptable for the group to invite people to participate who might choose not to-that is, some outside the group may know about the action, but are still expected to keep it a secret.
  4. The group does not set a strict list of who is invited; participants are free to invite others and encourage them to do the same, whilst emphasising that knowledge of the action is to be kept within the circles of those who can be trusted with secrets.
  5. “Rumours” of the action can be spread far and wide through the community, but the
  6. identities of those at the centre of the organising are to be kept a secret.
  7. The action is announced openly, but with at least some degree of discretion, so as not to tip off the sleepier of the authorities.
  8. The action is totally announced and above ground in all ways.

It also makes sense to choose the means of communication you will use according to the level of security demanded. Here’s an example of different levels of communications security, corresponding to the system just outlined above:

  1. No communication about the action except in person, outside the homes of those involved, in surveillance-free environments (eg. The group goes camping to discuss plans); no discussion of the action except when it is absolutely necessary.
  2. Outside group meetings, involved individuals are free to discuss the action in surveillance-free spaces .
  3. Discussions are permitted in homes not definitely under surveillance.
  4. Communication by encrypted email or on neutral telephone lines is acceptable
  5. People can speak about the action over telephones, email, etc. provided they’re careful not to give away certain details – who, what, when, where.
  6. Telephones, email, etc. are all fair game; email listservs, fliering in public spaces, announcements to newspapers, etc. may r may not be acceptable on a case-by-case basis.
  7. Communication and proclamation by every possible medium are encouraged.

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