A web comic from Colombia discusses surveillance and gender in Latin America—to the rhythm of salsa

Sep 5, 2019 by

”Beyond the joke that “every breath you take” seems like it could be written by the NSA, we realized that this is about a man that spies on a woman.”

Una de las escneas del cómic Tour Delirio: Salsa y Vigilancia. Imagen utilizada bajo una licencia Creative Commons Atribución-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

“…Well, cameras are everywhere.” A scene from Tour Delirio: Salsa y Vigilancia (Tour Delirio: Salsa and Surveillance). Image taken from Archive.org and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Cities are spaces governed by technology. This is not just true for smart cities, which continue to raise concerns about people’s privacy, but also for many urban areas. In such areas, nowadays, security cameras and ‘smart’ transport and energy infrastructures are rapidly proliferating, while the general population is increasingly adopting communication technologies that keeps them online everywhere and all the time.

Unfortunately, these trends reflect an issue that is at the forefront of the fight for human rights: government and corporate surveillance. And the issue becomes even more urgent when approached from a Latin American and gender perspective.

This led María Juliana Soto to create a multimedia project entitled Tour Delirio: Salsa y Vigilancia (Tour Delirio: Salsa and Surveillance), a webcomic that encourages dialogue about internet surveillance — set to the rhythm of salsa music.

I spoke with María Juliana Soto about surveillance in Latin America and the implications of state, corporate, and social surveillance from a human rights perspective. She says:

Raising awareness of online security and internet privacy has been a challenge for me. […] Corporations have tricked us into normalizing their practices. […] Because the services they offer work in their favor. For example, WhatsApp, which supports the narrative of the free, the necessary, and the indispensable. My friends look at me weird when I tell them to use Signal, for example. We have to ask more questions to those companies that normalize how we deliver our data and information to third parties.

Tour Delirio is an effort to bring the conversation to the people. As the comic’s creator indicated, there is a need to raise awareness about the importance of cross-examining services like Facebook and Google, which have faced criticism for collecting huge amounts of data about their users and then using it in not-so-transparent ways.

What I want with Tour Delirio is to raise those questions about where our data is going or if someone is reading our conversations. Arouse curiosity, and a little savvyness toward the use of these technologies. […] As citizens we lack curiosity and deeper insight. […] We’ve bought into everything about technology.

What is not yet being talked about?

Surveillance is an issue present within several problems that are not new to Latin America. Hence the importance of discourse that questions surveillance and privacy:

There isn’t much talk about who is being monitored. There are communities being actively monitored for safety purposes, and others that are monitored for control. It is an open secret that some people are taken care of and others are controlled. Surveillance has been equated with security. These days any political candidate talks about security cameras and increasing the use of devices to improve security in cities. Although there are studies and critical stances that demonstrate the inefficiency of these strategies and the risk they pose to privacy rights. Regardless, there is no serious widespread critical exploration and these proposals continue to go unquestioned.

The conversation then turned to what privacy might mean within a Latin American context:

What is privacy in a popular neighborhood of a city like Cali, in Colombia? Cali is a place where people keep their front doors open and large families live together, where people spend a lot of time outside in the neighborhood, conversing. There is an idea of ​​privacy that breaks all the time. People are much more distanced from each other in other cultures. This is how our communities assemble in these places, there’s very much an “open door” policy. We stay inside much less than other societies. In this context, talking about the importance of privacy is a particular effort, a directed strategy.

The intersection of gender and surveillance

All of the people in Tour Delirio are women. The intersection of spying and women—or gender issues—along with differences in social classes and ethnic discrimination are core issues in a broader conversation about surveillance and privacy:

The gender theme appeared with music. I created a playlist with a friend with songs that Google or the US surveillance offices could have dedicated to us. It was a game. But when we listened to the lyrics, we realized that there was something else. These songs talked about women. Beyond the joke that “every breath you take” seems like it could be written by the NSA [the United States’ National Security Agency], we realized that this is about a man that spies on a woman. And from there salsa came along, which is the music that connected us more strongly with our city, with Cali. In salsa we find a representation of love as ownership. For generations we have sung and danced songs that tell us that we are the property of someone and to that extent, we become more susceptible to being controlled.

These cultural relations between violence and gender have been a topic addressed by feminists for a long time. As for music, criticism and analysis have focused especially on reggaetón. But what about salsa? Here we put more care into the mix and the playlist. We’ve used a lot of metaphors to talk about privacy and surveillance: Big Brother, for example, or the panopticon… But these are inherited imageries, passed down from activism that sprung from Europe or the US, and consequently we do not have the same connection with ours. Tour Delirio proposes to use metaphors that spring forth from here, from our own cultural context. A context that, aside from being subjects of surveillance, if the subject is a woman, she can be subjected to much more persistent dangers. The history of spying that Tour Delirio tells are daily tales that invite us to reflect about the relationship that we have with our phones, with security cameras throughout the city or with social media we use daily. Besides, we invite them to question the social surveillance practices that exist in our Latin American context and that are reflected in cultural expressions like salsa music.

Ángel Carrión collaborated with the creation of this article.

Source: A web comic from Colombia discusses surveillance and gender in Latin America—to the rhythm of salsa · Global Voices

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