What is the difference between Privacy and Secrecy in a Nonviolent Campaign?

Anita McKone

Privacy

Having some degree of privacy is a basic human need, and is thus also listed as a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In private, or with people we trust, we are free to feel, think and create things in an uninhibited manner.

In private, we can make jokes, express ‘scary’ feelings, talk through ideas and work through dysfunctionalites without fear of negative consequences.

Privacy allows us choice as individuals. It gives us functional control over who we talk to, what we talk about, and the language and style we may use to communicate well and clearly.

Using affinity groups as an organising structure helps with privacy and trust – individuals can decide who they feel comfortable working with, get to know those people well, and decide through group consensus if new members are needed and will fit with the group. This decreases the chances of infiltration by saboteurs.

It is not functional or necessary for a centralised authority to be a ‘surveillance state’ for the purposes of ‘security’. If all people and all interactions are considered a potential threat to security, just because a small number of individuals may behave in a violent or criminal manner, the entire population is criminalised. If the threat is considered to be ‘biological’, the entire population is considered ‘sick’.

Meanwhile, the criminals who are wealthy enough to be above the law, shaping society and the economy without the knowledge, input or agreement of the population, are not similarly exposed for the benefit of the population through centralised surveillance.

Clearly the top level criminals and government officials ‘needing’ that level of control are paranoid – their fear is overreactive and projected irrationally and will have extremely negative social consequences. Additionally, their political or medical justifications for greater surveillance ‘in the short term’ may hide a longer term agenda for creating totalitarian social control.

Therefore, it is important to noncooperate with the surveillance state by ‘not making it easy’ for them to listen to or collect information about you that you don’t think it appropriate for them to have. Such noncooperation might include leaving mobile phones in a separate room with the door closed while you have meetings, and using encrypted email. On the one hand, you will not have anything to hide, on the other, they don’t have the right to spy on you in a space you have designated ‘private’. You may not be able to avoid certain impositions like CCTV cameras, but it is wise not to feed their addiction if you have simple, nonviolent means to prevent surveillance.

Secrecy

In a nonviolent campaign, you are not obliged to tell your opponent everything, but it is important that crucial elements are ‘open’ and not kept secret from police or your supporters. These include:

Being open about the existence of your group, its purpose, its commitment to nonviolence, a means for contact and the real names of those involved.

Being open about any actions that take place in public, arrestable or otherwise, including info on exactly what you intend to do. This is for the benefit of your supporters (who will wish to be involved with the full knowledge of what the likely consequences will be) and the police (who will be given space to use their discretion in response to whatever you do, and be supportive of you if they can).

Many (though not all) activist activities involve risk, and it is up to each individual to decide how much personal inconvenience or suffering they feel they can withstand in the event of repression. While it might seem scary or frustrating to be open about who you are, or what you intend to do, being secretive takes far more energy and keeps everyone focused on the ‘worst case scenario’. Secrecy increases distrust, both within the activist movement and with your opponent, and increases the likelihood of damaging infiltration and violent response.

In a strategy of military defence against unjust takeover, secrecy would be necessary and have no ‘down side’, because military defence uses intimidation and logistical control to gain political control. Military defence uses a limited number of people, organised in relatively small groups, to try to achieve its aims, and again, secrecy is not detrimental in this context. By contrast, secrecy is detrimental to a nonviolent defence ideally involving the entire population (all ages and sexes). Nonviolent defence is designed to decrease the natural and paranoid fears of your key opponents and their supporters, to provide space for them to realise that it is possible to cooperate to meet everyone’s needs. At the same time as you noncooperate to take their unjust power away from them (which they will initially fear and be angry about), you also reassure them that they can back down and change their behaviour without losing their lives or human dignity.

Openness demonstrates the fearlessness of the activists in standing up for the truth (which is inspirational to your supporters) and provides the trustworthy communication between parties necessary to convince supporters of the injustice to switch sides.

Further reading on secrecy:

‘Nonviolent Action: Why and How it Works’

‘The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions’

‘Nonviolent Activism and the Police’

January 2021

Source of this document:
https://nonviolentliberationstrategy.wordpress.com/articles/privacy-and-secrecy/