Least Authority at 2017 Internet Freedom Festival and RightsCon

March was a busy, but exciting month for Least Authoritarians. It started off with our participation in 2017 Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) held from March 6-10 in Valencia, Spain and ended at 2017 RightsCon, which took place from March 29-31, in Brussels, Belgium.

Open supportive conversations, knowledge sharing with like-minded professionals, a few days of reflection upon significant issues of internet freedom, a chance to explore Valencia and Brussels is how we would describe our experience at the two largest and most diverse gatherings in the Internet Freedom space.

Our company Least Authority TFA GmbH which, began its operations in Berlin in November 2016, made a debut appearance at both the events, although Least Authority Enterprise has significantly contributed to this vibrant community over the years. With over 1000 participants in IFF and 1500 attendees in RightsCon from nearly 100 countries, we got an excellent opportunity to re-introduce ourselves and our products and services to a wider audience.

Liz Steininger, the CEO/ Managing Director of our company and Chris Wood, the Lead UI/UX Developer and the author of Gridsync represented Least Authority at Internet Freedom Festival (IFF). They were joined by Brian Warner from the Tahoe-LAFS project.

We hosted a conversation about the various tools, technologies, and practices for secure storage and file-sharing for Internet freedom supporters. The hour-long conversation in a room packed with enthusiastic attendees yielded valuable information about users’ preferred tools and their features such as simplicity/ease of use, excellent collaborative functionality, compatibility with other services, reliability, security, and deniability.

The discussion also revealed that there is a high level of concern about data privacy. The group talked about use cases such as the volunteer lawyers who came forward to assist travelers detained as part of the U.S government’s travel ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport and among other things, expressed their wish for client side encryption and open source transparency – two important features of Least Authority’s S4 Simple Secure Storage Service.

We took part in The Tools & Tech Showcase, organized by eQualit.ie and the 2017 IFF Tools & Technology Fellows. The showcase – one of the 200 sessions featured by IFF – aimed at offering visibility to innovative and inclusive projects that are precious for protecting freedom of speech and human rights online.

Chris demonstrated the benefits of Gridsync and Tahoe-LAFS – that allows for backing up local files, synchronizing directories between devices, and sharing files and storage resources with other users across all major desktop platforms (GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows).

We also performed user interviews with Ame Elliott from Simply Secure and presented during a session with the USABLE Project as part of our work with the Internews UXFund. The interviews helped us to extract useful information about user experience, usability, and ideation.

At RightsCon, Least Authority made it’s presence felt by organizing a session titled, “How To Sell Out: Building Businesses That We Can Buy Into and Believe In.” Liz Steininger, our CEO/ Managing Director along with Sacha Van Geffen, the founder of Greenhost, facilitated the group discussion. The session centered around the theme that companies should not be focused only on generating profit; they should become a vehicle for accomplishing societal purposes. The participants agreed that ethics affect a company’s reputation and help to define a business model that will thrive even in adversity. There was a consensus that we should keep the conversation going, and find ways to sustain projects without sacrificing our values and beliefs.

At RightsCon we also got a chance to present Tahoe-GUI/Gridsync – a forthcoming graphical user interface for Tahoe-LAFS – the Least Authority File Store. Chris Wood gave an impressive tech demo called “Gridsync: Secure and Decentralized Cloud Storage Made Easy.” Using slides, he explained how Tahoe-LAFS has provided secure, decentralized, and fault-tolerant data-storage for years, but has historically been difficult to install, configure, and use. He demonstrated how Least Authority’s new, open-source, graphical user interface for Tahoe-LAFS aims to ameliorate these issues and make private cloud storage more accessible and easy for non-technical users. The presentation was well received by the audience.

Like in IFF, we carried out user interviews in RightsCon to get a sense of what our prospective users feel about Gridsync and the S4 service offered by Least Authority.

In short 2017 IFF and RightsCon were a productive and successful experience. We gained insights from a diverse group of people with different backgrounds (including policy, technology, and advocacy) on the future of the digital rights. The events also helped us to engage with the community, created opportunities for networking and building valuable connections.