Techno-Activism 3rd Mondays (TA3M) is an informal meet-up designed to connect software creators and activists who are interested in issues like censorship, surveillance, and open technology. Portland’s TA3M continues to focus on educational events and recently expanded that focus to include privacy, security, and sometimes other tech-related topics. Here, EFF speaks with Electronic Frontier Alliance member Portland’s TA3M about their work, lessons learned and what’s to come on the horizon.
What have been some of the issues you’ve concentrated on and what were some of your early successes?
Over the years, we’ve tried to do a mix of topics, helping people to understand local policies that might affect them, ways to protect their personal information, and issues related to new technologies that were coming into wider use at the time. We’ve hosted events about face recognition, gunshot detection technologies, surveillance technologies, ordinances, consumer privacy, artificial intelligence, and how to request public records. We’ve also brought in government representatives to talk about their privacy-related work.
In the BeforeTimes, we had many great privacy-related talks, including a few with privacy all-stars, like Clare Garvie and Kashmir Hill, and our biggest event ever was an in-person talk by Cyrus Farivar back in November 2019. He spoke about several legal cases and how they’ve impacted our privacy rights. One of our more frequent guests, though, is Hector Dominguez of Smart City PDX. He periodically shares his work at the City of Portland with us, detailing their efforts to increase privacy protections and transparency in the city.
Can you tell us about some of your current projects?
Most recently, we’ve had events concerning police accountability, public banking, and the City of Portland’s effort to create a surveillance technology inventory.
And, within the past year, we’ve also hosted events related to gunshot detection systems, online voting, and [international] trade agreements. Trade agreements, in particular, probably seem not very privacy-related, but the international data-sharing policies established in such pacts can result in a lowest-common-denominator outcome, where our personal information is subject to minimal standards set by the countries with the weakest privacy protections in place.
What has your group learned in your popular education work?
I’ve heard EFF staff stress a number of times that having regular meetings is important for keeping people engaged, and I think that’s true! Conveniently, our name—Techno-Activism 3rd Mondays—advertises our event dates automatically. While, due to scheduling, weather, or unforeseen issues, we occasionally have events on other days, we generally try to set our events for the 3rd Monday, so people can plan for them.
We’ve also learned the importance of meeting people where they are. Even though we’ve done more educational awareness types of events than official training sessions thus far, we still have attendees with different experiences and understandings of the various topics, so we try to make all of our events accessible and welcoming to people at all levels of knowledge.
What connects you personally to the work?
I really care about privacy and what happens when our privacy is lost. The fact that more and more of our personal data is collected, shared, and monetized without our consent, or even our knowledge, is very troubling to me. I don’t want to live in a world where every action and thought we have is collected and stored and can then be used in ways that align with someone else’s interests, rather than our own—whether those interests belong to governments, corporations, or malicious actors who wish to take advantage of our personal preferences and quirks and our human limitations.
I don’t want the world to be a rigged game controlled by the rich and powerful who use our personal information as an opportunity for their further enrichment.
What are the technological challenges for Portland’s TA3M?
Hosting meetings has been very challenging at times! NW Academy had been hosting our in-person meetings at the school for at least a few years, but when the pandemic arrived, we had to switch to online meetings. The school continued to host us through 2021, but we had to find a new option the following year, both because the school was not renewing their Zoom subscription and because we wanted a more privacy-focused option.
These days, we’re using BigBlueButton, and it seems to be working pretty well for us.
What’s next on the horizon for Portland’s TA3M? Are there things that your group has wished to prioritize in the past and you’re now putting back on the agenda?
We would love to do some hands-on workshops! We had been planning to do one before the pandemic arrived, and we’re still hoping to once we start meeting in person again. We’d like to give people a chance to interact with various technologies rather than only have events where attendees mostly listen. To be sure, we’ve had many interesting and very knowledgeable speakers; we just want to mix things up a bit with some hands-on events as well.
We’ve also not had any in-person meetings since March 2020. We had been looking to at least get people together for a social event, and we’re hoping to finally do that this fall with an outdoor privacy happy hour. While I try to get ideas for topics and speakers from the group, I’m also always on the look-out for people doing work related to our areas of focus.
Has the work of Portland’s TA3M led to other work?
Portland’s TA3M has mainly focused on education, but we’re very fortunate to have a few other EFA groups here in Portland as well—Personal Telco Project, Encode Justice Oregon, and PDX Privacy—because, by collaborating, we can cover more issue areas than we could just working alone.
A while back, Russell Senior, from Personal Telco Project, spoke with us about their municipal broadband initiative, and we’re now engaging with Encode Justice Oregon about doing a presentation at one of our meetings this fall. We’ve also co-hosted several events with PDX Privacy. They’re more active in the policy-related privacy happenings in the city, and they’ve worked with us to put together panels and other events related to technologies under consideration by the city, such as face recognition and gunshot detection systems.
How would someone contact you and do opportunities exist for people to get involved?
Yes! We’re always looking for ideas, speakers, and help in organizing our events.
Most of our events so far have been topics that I found to be interesting, urgent, or concerning, and I thought (and hoped!) other people might also care. So, we’ve sought out people who could share knowledge about those topics. If someone has privacy-related work they want to share, we’re interested in learning more and potentially having them share their work with our group. We don’t want to promote for-profit products or anything like that, but topics that illustrate how tracking and surveillance work, or tips for circumventing unwanted data collection—things like that—we’d love for people to connect with us.
To get in touch with us please email [email protected] and our meetup page is: