Online Privacy Unites Europe

by: Farooq Yousaf

(NERDY Training on Internet Governance – Vienna: 27 April – 1 May)

On one fine day, I was informed by my one of my German friends that the training he had applied for was now open to Non-EU participants, residing in the EU, as well. The news made me excited, and I took no time in applying for the NERDY Internet Governance Training in Vienna, Austria.

At 5 pm on the 26th of April, after changing 2 buses and one train, I finally reached the hostel where I was supposed to stay in central Vienna. The trainers were already waiting there for all the arriving participants. I, for one moment, went into a slight shock as I saw a Tattooed bald tall skinny guy – named Ludo Keizer – and yes I hoped he wouldn’t be our trainer as his initial impressions scared me a bit. But the moment he spoke out his first line, his impression in my mind changed completely as he sounded like a chilled out Cool-American-Dude, though he was Dutch (with a American accent), and that was some respite for me. After my short intro to the group, I headed towards my room.

Vienna Vienna Vienna Vienna Training Protest

After taking a short nap I got ready for our first informal meeting and dinner. Silvio Heinze, the man responsible for organizing the training, led us all towards a well-known local restaurant,  which surprisingly fulfilled its hype made by Silvio- though I never got the concept of the paintings hung on the walls portraying beautiful ladies on an exotic beach eating Falafel. The dinner served as an ideal ice breaker getting to know each and every participant- or most of them as a few arrived later that night – and interacting with the trainers.

So, on the first day of our training we were introduced to The Hub, our venue for training. Initially, I couldn’t grasp the concept and structure of The Hub, as well as the training. But later on, I was glad to find out the training was in an informal setup, unlike most of the trainings with formal dressing, organized seating arrangement, boring lectures, and sleepy participants. It also made me surprised that public spaces, such as The Hub, also exist, providing a quiet and solitary space to its members along with event management facilities – and yes supporting Vegan Food – at least during our trainings. But taking nothing away, the Pakistani/Indian Food at The Hub was indeed one of the highlights of our training as it surely reminded me of home.

Our first day kicked off with an intro walk inside The Hub and then a more formal walk in pairs getting to know our respective partners and then finally discussions about Internet Governance, the importance of internet in our respective lives and then a roundtable discussion in four groups relating to Internet Governance, Privacy and role of state, inter-state, multi state and global regulation bodies, and the day finally rounding off with inspirational movies. The second day consisted of group research and presentations on privacy, a formal discussion on privacy, and most importantly, the participants making different creative memes speaking out their opinions creatively with one or two liners.

The focus of the third day was greatly related to online privacy as the group discussed implications of privacy and our online rights as internet users. We were also lucky to find out about applications like Collusion that helped us finding and tracking the sites spying on us while using Internet, along with the TOR web browser, which helps an internet user to securely browse internet.  Following the third day, that rounded off the theoretical blocks, came the penultimate day that was more practical in nature. The group visited the Austrian ministry for media affairs in a great historical building, which according to the government official was the oldest administrative building in Europe. It was a great informative session presided by officials in charge of Online Policy making in Austria. Later in the afternoon, all of us went to the Vienna Center to record our unique protest against Online Privacy infringement and online threats. This protest, the first of my life, made me understand how creative/non violent protests can help in spreading the message in an effective manner.

After four hectic days taking their toll on most of the participants, the trainers decided to make the final day a slightly relaxing one for the group. The participants were invited to ask any questions that were still unanswered in their minds. This session helped in wrapping up what we learnt over the past four days. The final two activities of the training consisted of movie screening, The Pirate Bay-Away from the Keyboard(TPB-AFK) based on the famous trial, and final comments by participants relating to Content, Team, and Organization.

Besides training activities, the five days of my stay saw many amazing moments, especially from two people, Stefano, from Italy, and Manos, from Greece. Both of them lived up to their country’s reputations of being loud, in a positive sense, and Yes! they were Loud. Their loudness kept us all happy, laughing and alive. Stefano proved to be a true Italian always getting offended, either intentionally or unintentionally, when it came to pizza and cappuccinos. According to him, having a cappuccino in the morning or afternoon is a sin, and that making a pizza with pineapple is an insult to pizza. Manos along with Lucia, on the other hand, were always successful in provoking Stefano making us all laugh our guts out.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say (and I hope others spare me for this) that Ludo was the Star of the Show. He was the spark that is always necessary to get anything going. If trainers were the BODY, Ludo was the brain, which is an integral part to the body’s functioning. He inspired most of us and left a great mark on our minds. Yet it would be unfair to discredit all the trainers, Silvio, Martin, Lucia, Ana, Tamara and Maggie, without whom the training would have been incomplete. The trainers gave a cause to fight for to most of us. The cause to protect our online privacy.

After meeting so many people from different nationalities such as Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Poland, France, USA, Serbia, Slovakia, Russia, Austria, Greece, Spain and Italy (I hope I am not missing any), I never wanted this journey to end. I was personally sad to hear the words ” let’s make a final group photo” as it indicated towards the end of an amazing journey that I would cherish for the rest of my life.

Vienna Still Needs to be Explored, So I’ll Be Back Soon!

(P.S: I would like to specially thank the team again –  Silvio, Martin, Maggie, Lucia, Ana, and Ludo –  for organizing and managing such an amazing event)