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How an afternoon with advocates made me understand Luddites

SafetyNetCanada_green7Every fall we hold our Provincial Advocates Conference, which trains advocates from all around the province on legal issues.

Day one of the training was just for our community partners and I had a chance spend the day with them. Community partners are organizations across BC – in 24 communities right now – that work with people who may need legal aid. As part of their day-to-day jobs, they deal with people who need legal aid or who could use our resources, so we make sure that they are trained, up-to-date, and ready to point those people in our direction.

Part of the day was spent updating all of these advocates on legal aid services and resources: updates to our websites, new publications, ways of sharing information, and more. By request, the rest of the day was spent on a really interesting, and kind of scary, presentation by BC Society of Transition Houses’ Safety Net Canada Project on the (mis)use of technology and violence against women. Many of our community partners work often support women and their children leaving abusive relationships and in recent years technology has been used more and more for harassment and stalking.

I deal with technology and the online world all the time. In fact it’s most of what I do at LSS. But some of the stuff that was brought up in that presentation absolutely floored me. I mean, I know that digital photos can contain location data about where they were taken, or that spyware can record what you type, or that you can disguise your phone number as someone else’s, but the implications of what that could mean for someone fleeing an abusive relationship never really crossed my mind. Some of it never even occurred to me; for example, I hate email forms – those text boxes that some sites make you fill out rather than just giving you an email address – but someone brought up that using them means that email addresses, say for a women’s shelter, doesn’t get stored in the address book or your email isn’t sitting in the sent folder. Two very real issues if someone is trying to track your online communications.

It’s pretty sobering, really, and I find it all a bit striking that people like our community partners have to think about this stuff every day at their jobs. I don’t want to fear monger though. The session wasn’t just about the dangers of technology. It was also about mitigating those dangers to protect yourself, and using technology to your advantage. While I don’t think I’ll be deleting my Twitter account any time soon, I can definitely start to see where Luddites are coming from.

I can’t speak for our community partners, but I had an eye opening afternoon that day. If the last three days were as interesting as the first, then I think everyone will walk away prepared to do a better job helping and advocating for their clients.

–Nate Prosser, Online Outreach Coordinator at LSS

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