Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

I'm a sociologist, teacher, and part of a hacklab in Mexico.

I moved far away from the collective now, but I still participate remotely with communications and workshops.

I use Linux since the 2010's. My background is in social science and not computers, so I had to learn how to use the terminal, maintain my system, etc.

As a sociologist, I do qualitative data analysis. I've been trained to work with proprietary software, but then I learned how to use only Free Software, like RQDA.

I got into Free Software through friends who had a server project many years ago. We used Knoppix to troubleshoot my broken computer. That made me realize that Linux was not so hard to learn. I started using Mint, Ubuntu, and then settled on Debian.

I had to learn everything from scratch. My Linux friends were very patient. I kept a double boot on my system for some time to be able to do some of my media work as a journalist on Windows and Adobe. I could finally get rid of Windows now and fall back on online services or virtual machines when I can't do some of my work on Linux.

How did you discover Tails?

I was searching and uploading information on WikiLeaks and Méxicoleaks and got a Tails USB stick from a workshop at the hacklab.

I was working on very sensitive topics like migration, human trafficking, and drug trafficking, and didn't want all my research to be linked back to me.

Then, reading Snowden's book, I understood better the capacity of Tails, how he used it in the NSA leaks, and how our communications are tracked.

I'm not using Tails as much now.

For some reason, some months ago, my Tails got outdated and I couldn't use it anymore. When starting, Tails would get stuck on the first screen and I couldn't open any application. I had to update and fix some permissions as admin but I didn't know how. I guess that I could have downloaded and installed it again but I didn't have the time and didn't find anybody who could help me so much.

What do you like about Tails?

  • The possibility of anonymity and security

    Mexico is terrible in terms of human rights, but security is taken too lightly. People don't feel the need to protect their personal data or anonymity. Researchers are very ingenious and think that they can work carelessly because they are not faced with all this violence directly.

    But it became clear to me by working on the field.

    For example, one day, the family members of a researcher in our group received fake kidnapping and extortion messages after we lost her from sight. It turned out to be fake, but we wondered how these people got to learn our phone numbers and where we were.

    It's super important for us and our family to keep safe, and protect our data and our phones.

    Sometimes when working on the field, we borrow computers and there you really need Tails. There's nothing else!

  • Tails is a toolkit for human-rights defenders or journalists

    I really think that these tools are needed by these collectives. Journalists, researchers, and anthropologists face direct consequences for researching topics that others don't want to be brought to light.

  • That you can use Tor without installing it or modifying your browser

    Even if it's pretty easy, it sometimes turns out more complicated. With Tails everything is set up already.

  • That there is no metadata attached to what you do

    You can do this on Linux as well, but it requires more configuration. Even if you are not very technical, Tails doesn't leave you exposed even if you do mistakes.

What are the things that you didn't like about Tails?

  • This problem I had with upgrades

    Maybe it's because I didn't know how to solve it...

  • A problem I had while creating a bootable drive myself

    I needed somebody's help. Last time I tried, I followed a tutorial but it didn't work. My last resort would be to try again or give up.

    Maybe there could be some kind of tester for the bootable drives, to know whether there's any mistake.

What do you think is the biggest problem to Tails being adopted by more journalists and researchers?

It's related to a lack of information. People would attend if there were more workshops, but they are a bit scared about the technology, a kind of prejudice. They think that Linux is complicated and only for technical people.

And they are right in some ways. I wouldn't have made it without the help of all my friends. It's about learning new logic and new tools.

Also, a lot of professions that would benefit from Tails are in bed with proprietary software, Adobe, data analysis software, etc. In social sciences, nobody knows about the alternatives even when they are better and easier to use. Again, it really feels like prejudice to me.

People are a bit reluctant to attend workshops in our hacklab. The space is kind of stigmatized. It would work better to go meet them at the university, for example. Or have an online course that people could follow asynchronously.

It's hard to get journalists on board because they are always in a rush. Freelancers are more prone to take care of their security because they are on their own and more aware of the risks. When you work for a newsroom, they are supposedly responsible for your security, even though it's not the case at all in Mexico.

The same happens in academia. If you get into trouble during your research, it's your problem. Universities only react after the worse happened with a communiqué or an obituary when nothing more can be done.

Once I attended a forum on security in academia and people were very interested. But the level was extremely basic: building physical security protocols. Digital security was not treated at all. People need something much more basic than a Tails workshop. They need to understand why anonymity is important, what happens when you browse the Internet, how search engines work, etc.

What if these people didn't have to restart the computer to use Tails?

It would make it easier to use Tails on computers that have their boot configuration locked down.