Language Justice Series, Localization Sprint: Psiphon for Translators and Language Justice Activists

By: Eliana Trinaistic, Social Impact Manager

Several months ago, Open Mind, a weekly public affairs program designed to elicit meaningful insights into the challenges of contemporary policies, talked to Dragana Kaurin, a fellow at the Berkman Klein Centre, a human rights activist, researcher, and founder of Localization Lab, an organization that builds bridges between developers, organizations, users and communities in need, facilitating more accurate translations and  better Internet access:

“Unlike 25 years ago when Bosnians and Rwandans were fleeing, it is much different world for refugees now.  For one, we get to watch, we have to see, we have to witness the refugee crisis happening. We have no longer excuse to say; well we did not know what was happening. And secondly, refugees have devices on them that serve as immediate access to information, to let them stay connected to each other and to the world. These devices also act as very powerful surveillance tools for governments to know where refugees are going at all times.”

Over the past few years, Localization Lab has helped make open source technologies available to underrepresented communities in 220 languages while continuously supporting equal access to information, better online representation and growth of diverse user base. Dragana, who is fluent in French, Arabic, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian and of course, English, believes that “refugees civic tech” is not about creating new apps but about co-designing and understanding the limitations of technology in respect to securing refugees’ rights and freedoms:

“What is the most concerning to me is that legislators say that fingerprints can be taken by force. You can imagine that if we do not even have agency over our bodies how we can have agency over our digital selves, over information about us. Not knowing who is taking your hand and pressing it against the screen to take your finger prints has a very deep effect on people, causing distress…And going back to language, there are so few resources available…The most recent research that I’ve done at Berkman, I’ve interviewed people who have arrived in in the EU over the past 4.5 years, about their process and what is the asylum process like, what kind of information they give away, how that makes them feel, what do they think is happening with this information. And what I found I think is really alarming – is that people that are not giving out the most important parts of these information – which is surviving sexual violence, torture, witnessing war crimes, crimes against humanity, escaping genocide. These are the things that will make or break your asylum application. And telling a complete stranger this very personal story, not knowing what is going to happen with this information and secondly, having to tell this story over and over again without an interpreter often times, or not knowing you have a right to an interpreter. Risks should be very well explained to people who are so vulnerable. We are responsible for their well-being, and their data.” (Complete interview here)

The very first event of MCIS’ Language Justice Series, Localization Sprint (Psiphon for Translators and Language Justice Activists), co-organized by Localisation Lab and MCIS, and sponsored by Mozilla, will celebrate the International Translation Day while providing opportunities to learn about censorship worldwide and its effects on individuals’ access to information, demo the Psiphon, a local, Toronto-based open source circumvention tool that is being developed to help individuals gain unrestricted access to the open Internet no matter where they are, and help with adapting this circumvention tool for communities around the globe by localizing and translating its website and user interface into languages in high demand.

The objective is to highlight the impact of localization, translation, and interpretation services on human rights and Internet freedom, and connect professional translators with the Localization Lab community of volunteer contributors, human rights organizations and open source developers working tirelessly to adapt technology to ensure people always have secure access to information and communications, free of language barriers.

If you are interested in larger conversations around language as a policy and language as infrastructure of access (Language Policy Hackathon) we hosted back in January, 2019 with participants across sectors, please find the report here.

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