How Do We Protect Prisoners' Names and Info?
A South Carolina prisoner writes:
“Why did one of the coordinating members unexpectedly leave MIM(Prisons)? We should be informed on his/her departure because he/she do know our names in the group.”
This is a good question. We explained why ey left the best we can in an article on the comrade’s defection.
As to your concern about the info that this comrade had, it is a valid concern, and one we are always thinking about. The persyn who left MIM(Prisons) was a long-time cadre-level member who had access to information on a need-to-know basis, which included subscribers’ names, addresses and communication records. But as discussed in the article, ey left for some kind of nihilism and sense of defeat, and ey still feels like ey agrees with what we are doing. So we are confident in saying there is no ill-will there.
Over the existence of our organization we have constantly improved the security of our organization and specifically the security of our subscribers’ information. There have been at least 4 major technological leaps in our tracking of your info in our over 10 years of existence. We are confident in saying that our information is more secure than any other organization that you may write to, and about as secure as it could possibly be while still using computers connected to the internet.
Other than the technical side of security is the humyn side. We organize our movement in a hierarchical way. People must work their way up the ladder, and information is released on a need-to-know basis. Comrades must put in work to get access to any information. So even if they do do harm, we try to make sure they are doing more good for the movement.
We recently put out documents outlining a new mass organization called Anti-Imperialist Prisoner Support (AIPS). In those documents we outline the hierarchy of supporters, member, leaders and cadre. Cadre is the highest level, and would be full members of MIM(Prisons) or other Maoist cells. We have the same hierarchy within United Struggle from Within for our comrades inside, except that cadre-level prisoners cannot join MIM(Prisons) for security reasons. (Since the state can read our mail or listen to our phone calls, there is no way to have democratic centralism with cadre while they are still in prison.)
Our latest iteration of technological improvements was a major achievement that was just launched over the last couple months. It involved allowing supporters and members, working as AIPS, to help us with work like typing reports we receive from prisoners on conditions and organizing, articles and study group responses. This is done in a way where our subscribers’ identity and persynal information is completely inaccessible to these AIPS comrades. In fact, that persynal info physically cannot be “hacked” into from the information that these comrades have.
Even within the different levels of commitment outlined above, we have instituted different levels of access to information. It is all handled on a need-to-know basis and based on one’s quality of work and proven commitment to the movement. For example, members of AIPS have begun to participate in the introductory study group that you are also doing right now. And from the people that complete it, we will invite AIPS supporters to respond to imprisoned comrades’ answers to help both parties develop their political consciousness. This will be a level of political responsibility and access that must be earned.
Back to the comrade that left MIM(Prisons). As soon as ey left, we cut off eir access to all of our digital information and accounts. Most importantly, we released a new gpg key. We use gpg to encrypt our email and confirm our messages are officially from us. So anyone emailing us should use our new gpg key to ensure that anyone with our old gpg key cannot read our messages. Using the new gpg key provides extra certainty that you are only communicating with current members of MIM(Prisons).
In this era, people are more aware than ever about the susceptibility of their persynal information being sucked up and used by all kinds of powers that be. For revolutionaries this can become a life or death concern, and is certainly a concern of success or failure. Only recently have we seen other organizations and movements begin to talk about the kind of practices that MIM was once mocked for. While most of what we’re saying here you just need to take our word for, we do think our historical practice around security culture speaks to the seriousness with which we take the work that we are doing. And we commend you (the comrade who asked this question) for also taking these things seriously.