Security culture is a set of customs shared by activists to protect ourselves from interference by the government and the industries we campaign against.
Sensitive information is only shared on a need-to-know basis.
Only share sensitive information when it NEEDS to be known, and only share it with those who NEED to know it. Unnecessary sharing creates the risk of sensitive information getting into the wrong hands, or being shared with people who do not want the responsibility of knowing.
When you are sharing sensitive information with select individuals, be aware of who and what is around you. Also exercise caution with social media posts.
Sometimes you should refrain from asking curious questions, and one should never be afraid to decline to answer a question. If someone else is sharing something inappropriate, remind them about the importance of security culture. Anyone who brags about something that could put themselves or others at risk should be considered dangerous and unreliable.
Remember that none of this is done to hurt anyone’s feelings; rather, we all have to work together to keep each other as safe as possible.
Don’t talk to law enforcement officers.
There are only four things one should ever say to a law enforcement officer:
“Am I free to leave?”
“I’d like to remain silent.”
“I want an attorney.”
“I do not consent to a search.” (even/especially if a search is already in progress)
The law, and the officers that enforce it, exist to protect the powerful industries that profit from violence against animals. Law enforcement officers try to repress effective activism and intimidate us out of exercising our rights. This includes officers of all kinds, at all levels of government.
The industries that abuse animals work with law enforcement to shut down effective campaigns and silence activists any way they can, in civil or criminal court. Even if police do not arrest you, they can and will share anything you say with corporations to help them sue you.
Remember that law enforcement officers are allowed—and trained—to lie to you. Their job is to manipulate you into incriminating yourself or others, even when simply engaged in Constitutionally-protected speech and assembly.
A central tenet of the US justice system is that anything you say to law enforcement can only hurt you. If you have something to say about an accusation against you, say it to your lawyer later on. This sounds simple in theory, but in practice often requires strong will and forethought. Police are experts of trickery and control, and prey upon your stress and disorientation.
Inform other activists if you are approached by a law enforcement officer. At demonstrations and other actions, direct any law enforcement to the designated police liaison or legal observer. If a police liaison has not been designated prior to an action, speak up to the group. (Note that we do not necessarily advocate hostility – our experience for police liaisons is that an agreeable but firm attitude is often most effective.)
People who cooperate with law enforcement can never be welcome in an activist community, as they put everyone at risk.
Know your rights.
Every activists should understand basic rights: freedom from self-incrimination, access to counsel, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. But the law is complex. If you are an organizer or police liaison, educate yourself so that you can plan smart actions with knowledge of the associated risks and legal boundaries.
Read up on your state statutes, local ordinances, and judicial case law. If you aren’t sure, talk to a lawyer.
Even when police claim that you are in violation of an ordinance they dig up, the courts may have severely limited its applicability to political speech activity, or otherwise construed its language in a limiting manner that exempts your action.
Once you know your rights, don’t be afraid to assert them with law enforcement officers. Sometimes if police threaten arrest when you believe you have not broken any laws, it may be strategically beneficial to comply (after exhausting all methods of stalling). But your police liaison won’t be able to make an informed assessment if they don’t know the law.
The safest option is to conduct your actions in the presence of a trained legal observer. These can be requested from your local National Lawyers Guild chapter.
Practice electronic security.
A free society relies on secure communication. When discussing activism (or even better, all the time), use the Signal app for texts and calls. (Telegram has been proven insecure, and WhatsApp may have vulnerabilities.)
The most private conversations (including any discussion of activity inconsistent with law) are best left for face-to-face interaction.
In general, everything you do on your phone and computer can be tracked, both in real time and years later. A dated but informative overview of electronic privacy and security tools can be found here.
Look out for other activists’ safety.
Let those around you know the risks of any planned actions as much as is possible (without violating other principles of security culture).
For instance, many activists participate in actions that are sometimes technically arrestable, while others wish to avoid any risk of arrest. Everyone present at an action should be aware of its risks, and ideally have an option to participate in a manner that most minimizes risk.
Support animal rights prisoners.
Except in rare circumstances, CAFT does not believe in the efficacy of intentional arrest, particularly for symbolic or performative purposes.
But sometimes arrests happen. And if we do not support our prisoners, activists may feel restricted or stifled from expressing themselves fully in future campaign activities.
If someone does get arrested, help solicit donations for bail money. Contact local attorneys. Write, visit, and financially assist incarcerated activists.
Review this Legal Primer for more information about security culture, your Constitutional rights, proper (non-)engagement with law enforcement, and safe practices for yourself and your community. You can also download this flyer to hang on your door for reminders about interacting with law enforcement. If an officer or agent of the law ever knocks, this quick reference guide will help you deal with the situation.
And every single day, remind yourself: “Am I free to leave?” “I’d like to remain silent.” “I want an attorney.” “I do not consent to a search.”