cornelia on Wed, 9 Apr 2003 18:42:26 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> France is waking up

+++sorry for crossposting+++

France is waking up
Security* is becoming a topic of serious interest

(*nobody would call him/herself "hacker" here. They say they are
"interested in security", and there's a lot of people here interested in
Nathalie Magnan interviewed by Cornelia Sollfrank
Paris, December 14, 2003
C.S. Nathalie, you are one of the organizers of the Zelig3 conference
where I gave a lecture/performance yesterday (13th of December, 2002).  
Before we go into detail about the conference, its agenda and outcome, I
would like you to talk a bit about background. I know you lived in the US
for 11 years. What did you do there?
N.M.: I studied and worked at UC Santa Cruz and at the Visual Studies
Workshop in Rochester. I eventually connected with Paper Tiger TV and Deep
Dish TV with whom I did several programs, such as "Donna Haraway Reads the
National Geographic of Primates." With Deedee Halleck I also co-edited
"Gringo in Manaña Land", an archival feature film about American
representation of Latin America by North America. After returning to
France, I showed the "Gulf Crisis Tapes" before the January 15th outbreak
of the first Gulf War. There was a huge difference between U.S. media
activism and French media activism.
C.S.: When did you return to France?
N.M.: I returned in fall 1990, when the Gulf War was still going on. I was
shocked by the anti-war activities in France, the strategies for voicing
dissent and French media analysis. For example, there was a huge anti-war
demonstration in Paris in December 1990. I met a group of
journalists,activists and artists there, and we started the project "Canal
déchaîné"--a word play on the satirical newspaper called "Canard
Enchainé". In this group people were thinking critically about how the
media works, however, the group was dominated by boys. This was a shock
for me since I was coming from "Dyke Central..." I had not worked in a
strictly male environment for a long time. While I did work with them, I
never felt totally comfortable.
I had just come from a university in the States that was well-equipped
with e-mail and I simply wanted to get connected in France. You have to
understand that the first e-mail arrived in France as late as in 1987.
When I called my telecommunication company to order an e-mail account,
they said it would cost €60 per e-mail...  I didn't do it :-(
C.S.: How did you go on working then?
N.M.: I was making documentaries for an independent producer, teaching at
the University Paris VIII.  Later, I worked within a very "happening"  
department at the time -- "les programmes courts" of Canal+ (it doesn't
exist any more). With this group we did "La Nuit Gay" (The Gay Night), the
program that put gays and lesbians on the French media map. I also worked
to increase media access, pushing the idea of public access TV(which
doesn't exist in France to this day). I experimented with the idea of
public access later,setting up a very active feminist forum of discussion.  
It's a daily chronicle of women's issues created by all who are interested
in women's issues and includes chat on women's concerns as well as
developed essays on these topics.  
<> .
I was relieved when I learned about the first n5m (Next Five Minutes)  
conference for tactical media in '93 in Amsterdam [].  
Compared to the dominant discourse in France, it was very refreshing! I
was interested in the n5m conference because of their approach to tactical
media. I completely embraced the idea of having art, culture, politics,
and machines together infiltrating the dominant order, regardless of the
machines,the media, and production levels.

The conference also brought geeks and hackers together with the TV people,
and independent media makers. This made me feel totally at home. People
acknowledged the gender issue, but it wasn't given much attention. I
simply wanted to believe that the men in n5m were more aware than my
French colleagues who were old lefties. In fact, there were women around
me in Amsterdam, mostly Americans. Later, in 1995, when the nettime
mailing list emerged, and internet access in France became possible, I
subscribed immediately. And although I did not post much myself, the list
was my breathing channel. I realized that there was another woman from
France who posted interesting information about the situation in France on
nettime, Christine Treguier. (She organized the whole security track for
this Zelig conference). Through this list, I learned about other people in
France who were interested in tactical media.
C.S.: Did this finding change your situation in France?
N.M.: Certainly, but the problem was that these few French people did not
make a critical mass which is needed for a thinking group, for a
confrontation, and a discussion.
Together with Patrice Riemens and Geert Lovink, we came up with the idea
to start a French nettime list, which we did with Benoit Cristou, Boris
Beaude and Philippe Riviere. In a short time we had 200 people on it, but
as all lists it had its moments, still does. There are a lot of
announcements. Announcements are ok, but if nobody invests extra time and
energy in a mailing list, it simply doesn't function as a forum. We have
new moderators now, Aris from Samizdat & Nicolas from constat (Belgium).
The list moved to SAMIZDAT (, a French portal for a lot
of political and activist lists. It really started to pick up. It would be
desirable to connect it also to Canada, African, the Pacific Islands and
Asian countries where French is used.
 C.S.: What is the current relationship between French independent media
activities and the n5m/nettime activities? Is there an exchange going on?
 N.M.: I think that the work that is being done in France is now easier to
understand from the outside. There have always been some excellent people
working here, but the structures to make the work visible were missing.
Also, French people have started to circulate (travel) a bit more than
they did previously. More French artists have started going to other
festivals and conferences, and have started to network.
 I also created a helpful book together with Annick Bureaud, "Connexions :  
art, réseaux, média". The idea was to filter and translate material from
international mailing-lists (nettime, syndicate, rhizome) but also
Leonardo and texts that we considered to be part of the canon.  This was
helpful for people who have difficulties with English--and there is a lot
of them. The book is our selected texts, but it covers material that seems
necessary to be familiar with, in an international conference.
C.S.: Do you really think that France is/was isolated because of language?
N.M.: It's always overdetermined. Language is one reason, but also the
French have a tendancy to consider themselves as the center of the world,
universal, enlightened... Some workshops at Zelig were in English and
people attended those. Younger people are more open to speaking English,
and they understand the need to do so. The attitude that France is the
intellectual center of the world is starting to disappear.
C.S.: Let's finally talk about the Zelig conference.
N.M.: The Zelig conference (it was the 3rd) is the French version of an
international conference that strives to attract a variety of types of
people working in technology, networks, activism, culture, and art. Art is
not the strength of this conference, though.
C.S.: Can you roughly describe what kind of people took part, from what
fields, and what was on the agenda ?
N.M.: The organizers and participants were a mix of conscious technicians,
political activists, and people who are interested in culture.  The
participating technicians are really deep into technology.  They are
access providers or hosts, and one could also add "hackers." Nobody would
call him/herself ‚Äö"hacker" here. They would rather define themselves as
"people being interested in security." There is a lot of people in France
who are interested in security'...[laughs]
C.S.: Why is the term "hacker" being avoided?
N.M.: I think it is a way to avoid the romantic image of the hacker and to
stay away from the fear that people have of hackers, particularly in
France since the elections.  It is important to really do the work, the
political work because there is such an urgency.  For me, this large and
varied group of people are all connected by their interest in resisting
the commercial systems that limit our choices.  We all want to maintain
our own open channels that exist outside of the commercial system in case
the commercial filtering becomes too heavy.
One of the outcomes of the first Zelig was "gitoyen"  
(  This was a collaborative structure in which
resources such as bandwith and competences were shared in order to provide
non-commercial access to associations and groups of citizens.
C.S.: What was discussed during the conference?
N.M.: Basically, there were three main tracks--in addition to the basic
exchange of technical know-how in workshops. The three main areas of focus
were: "independent media," "security," and "cyberfeminism."
In the discussions about "independent media," different issues around
"indy media" and the necessity of creating a media center were raised.  
Would it be more efficient to have one press center for one event? In the
past each national indymedia site published different information on their
site which seemed inefficient.  If you wanted to obtain complete
information, you would have to visit 70 different sites. Would it be
helpful to put the machines in different locations so as to avoid what
went on in Genua (police cracking down on lawyers' hard drives, among
other things)?  One idea was to divide the center for production and the
center for distribution of information. We also discussed the filtering
policies and problems of indymedia. Indymedia originates from the
tradition of public access television, but it is a different medium, and
therefore the filtering process must be different. Finally, there is the
definite need for European independent media. There are a lot of things
happening on the European level but almost no media reporting on them. A
more abstract discussion questioned the terms "information" and
"communication" in general, and determined that these terms would need a
C.S.: Could you now please report on the topic of "security?"
N.M.: You should really ask Christine... One part of the discussion
revolved around technology and the use and types of cryptography,
specifically the Palladium story. By using Palladium, Microsoft can spy on
private pcs, check the installed software, and remotely destroy pirated
software. This alone raises a lot of questions about security on the
internet, as well as censorship. Tony Bunyan(from Statewatch) spoke of
governments that are putting "unlawful" and unconstitutional laws into
place since September 11. By using "international terrorism" as their
reason for implementing these dangerous laws, many governments, together
with media, create and propagate societal fear.
C.S.: Could you give an example of this?
N.M.: One simple example is the law that coordinates all the European
police forces (implemented by European politicians), and Europol.  
Another law concerns data retention. Who should keep what record and for
how long?

Hence at this year's Zelig, there was a presentation on "no-log"  
(, a system that guarrantees the privacy of a user's
data through crytopgraphy and without registration. What's different from
any other anonymizer is that this is being done precisely in response to
the data retention laws, hence, they can and will not keep any log.
C.S.: Now we should finally talk about the "cyberfem" track?
N.M.: The open mic/fem demo done with the mailing list "faces" during ISEA
two years ago definitively put things on the map here. During this year's
Zelig, the "cyberfem" discussion was part of the conference program (a
first!)along with the technical workshops, discussions and presentations.
We also had an open microphone session because I think it is important for
women to get to know each other, and to find out about each other's
activities. The problem with the open-mic format is also its strength.  
Since you don't select who speaks, you cannot avoid having, ummmmmm,
weaker work being presented. Many wonderful women came, and important new
connections were made on a one-on-one basis. Afterwards we had a fiesta
organized by Beatrice Rettig at EOF, an artist space, where we had an
excellent line-up of women djs. It was a terrific program to have the open
mic first, then the fiesta. On the practical front, we had two
genderchangers workshops-- one was about taking apart and putting together
computer hardware, the other was about free software, especially linux.
Peggy Pierrot organized the public conversation between Milica from "Zeena
ne delu" (Serbia), and Laurence from "constant" in Brussels.  This
discussion confronted two different experiments with women working with
new technologies coming from very different perspectives, but crossing at
several points. What I liked about both was their critical approach to
technology.  There were interested not just in training women, but also in
raising a critical consciousness about the use of technology. And then we
had the star from Hamburg...[ironic]
C.S.: Who was that?
N.M.: She said she was not an anarchist, but a cyberfeminist, and she did
a wonderful job in local recruitment.
C.S.: What did she talk about?
N.M.: She talked about "The tacticial use of terms" in general, and then
applied her theory by applying it to Cyberfeminism. The whole talk is on
our website <>.
Very often the audience feels provoked and reacts aggressively when it
comes to gender issues.  This happens for many different reasons.  Some
people associate clich?©s about feminism with cyberfeminism, while others
get angry exactly when those clich?©s and stereotyped rhetoric are being
questioned. She was very good at handling a variety of strange dynamics
and has a lot of experience. She does not get angry any more J
She presented the lecture in a performative way which was nice. There were
four people reading the lecture in French; herself, myself, and two boys
who had helped to translate her talk into French. It was very cute when
the boys read parts saying "my experience as a cyberfeminist" etc. It
became a statement about roles and language. It also brought translators,
who usually do work unnoticed in the background, to the foreground.
This issue is not really a critical part of cyberfeminism, but related to
it. I must mention the "yesmen" presentation. It was good to have them in
the program.  They provided feedback on the use of technology for
political activism, tactical politics, and masquerade as a form of
subversion.  All of these are commonly shared interests with
cyberfeminists. They also announced the difficulties The Thing was having.
C.S.: Back to Zelig. Could you tell me what the outcome of the conference
N.M.: One important result was the wonderful visibility cyberfeminists had
at such a meeting. These meetings are usually 99% boys. In my humble
opinion, the cyberfeminist discussion was a total success. It informed
everyone that there women using technology, that they want it, they can do
it, and they are conscious about what they're doing. It was the first
time-since I returned from the US-that it was not a struggle for me to
claim that presence in a boy's group.

We managed to print a paper before the conference.  This is always a good
propaganda tool. The web site has most of the intervention in French,
English, some Italian, and Spanish‚ (
C.S.: What I am interested in now, is to go back a bit in time. What is
the history behind or before Zelig.
N.M.: Zelig is closely related to a site called Samizdat‚Äö which collates
a variety of French mailing lists that address political issues
( This site also hosts Multitudes, an academic
publication in French, which is affiliated with Hard-Negri's thinking.

Two years ago, "mini-reseau" was prominent. They are responsible for
coding and developing SPIP: a very popular French open publishing
software, soon to come up in different languages.
The first Zelig conference facilitated the first physical meeting of this
diverse group of people. It occurred after a very important event that
shook the entire non-commercial internet in France. One of the most
prominent hosts of non-commercial sites-"altern" <> was
attacked (see, and had been many times
before. This particular time, they almost got him. One of the sites he
hosted contained an image of a nude, 20 year-old woman. She is now a
By making this available, Altern was making the statement that
"technicians are not judges; they are not responsible for ethical
judgement, technicians are technicians". The implication is that if
commercial technicians start to make ethical judgments, they will cut
access as soon as a "problem" arises. Altern insisted that a judge should
make such decisions, not a technician. This is not to say that technicians
have brains and can develop politically pertinent projects (such as
no-log), but that is another issue.
At this time there was only one non-merchant server in France--a terrible
situation indeed. In response to this, Valentin Lacambre (director of
Altern), donated all of his software (
in order to create a server to "lautre," a cooperative. Everybody was very
shaken because we realized Altern could have been closed.  All this simply
because an opportunist wanted to make money. This story happened three or
four years ago and made everybody think carefully about the law.
C.S.: Was it before the first Zelig conference?
N.M.: Yes.
C.S. You have also mentioned a project that some of the French people do
in Africa...
N.M.: Yes. It's AlternC. AlternC consists of software for housing and
server management. It's easy to use and easy to install and is based on
free software only. AlternC is free software itself. Hence Globenet (one
of the organisers of Zelig) is developing relations with Sub-Saharan
Africa in order provide access to and control of their information.  This
would allow them to stop needing to transmit via occidental countries such
as the USA (
C.S.: You say that the situation in France has changed. What do you think
French people would or could contribute to an international network of
media activists like the upcoming n5m conference?
N.M.: Definitely, alternC, spip, no-log, experiences with independent
media, security watch, European legislation, and certainly cyberfems.
We are at a point now where the whole issue of surveillance, control and
the merging of different databases is quite frightening. We should start
connecting with artists and activists from different countries and discuss
our positions on these topics in order to be able to resist. This is
especially important because there will be European laws around these
issues. I don't think it should be left only to official politicians and
lawyers to settle these issues. There should definitely be a broader
discussion. In that sense, it might be a good thing to have some French
people participating at n5m.

Many thanks for proof-reading and editing to: Rachel Greene (raw version)
Heidi Kumao (finalizing)

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