Secure tools to document human rights violations, such as those developed by Benetech’s Human Rights Program, have become critically important in efforts to pursue reform and seek justice—and in keeping human rights defenders safe. When widely deployed, these tools have the potential to make lasting impact by empowering people to fight abuse and advance democracy.
In recent years, the possibilities of what can be achieved with human rights fieldwork and advocacy has expanded as the worldwide use of mobile phones has increased and significant advances have been made in Internet and mobile technology. We’re excited to share that our Human Rights Program has been awarded a two-year, $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) to realize some of those possibilities
As the largest single grant in our Human Rights Program’s history, “On the Frontier of Secure Technology for Human Rights Monitoring” will allow Benetech to deliver a set of major enhancements and updated language translations to Martus, our flagship initiative, along with the further development and broad deployment of our recently released prototype: Mobile Martus. The Mobile Martus prototype allows users to send crucial data from the field—text, photographs, audio and video—to the Martus network of secure servers. The data is automatically encrypted on the mobile phone, and when being sent to the server, so it is protected in case the phone is lost, stolen or confiscated. The user—or someone they designate—can later retrieve their data, and can search, analyze and report on the information, using the Martus client software.
To further enhance the impact of Mobile Martus, we are partnering with The Guardian Project, leaders in mobile security and verifiable mobile media. Together, we will integrate Mobile Martus with Guardian’s media capture and verification capabilities, and explore opportunities to improve overall security in Mobile Martus using Guardian’s mobile security tools. Guardian will also be enhancing its mobile media security tools to support the safe collection and transmission of human rights data. And to support these enhancements, Benetech will develop new visualization, mapping and other features to the Martus software that can help human rights groups better understand their data and communicate their findings.
We will deploy these Martus enhancements, including Mobile Martus, to a broad base of human rights defenders, working directly with these groups to build capacity within their organizations and help make our tools most effective for them. On this front, we will collaborate with Internews, which will leverage its 30 years of rights-promoting fieldwork around the world to expand the use of Martus by including it in the suite of digital security tools they train on.
Here’s why this grant is so important to us: Gathering the stories of victims and witnesses puts human rights fieldworkers and their sources at grave risk. They face intense surveillance and state-sponsored harassment by skilled and well-resourced attackers who want access to their sensitive information and their network of contacts. To stay safe and continue their important work, human rights defenders need advanced, but easy to use information security tools—especially mobile tools. And they need to be able to trust those tools.
At Benetech, one of our organizational truths is to recognize the importance of openness and transparency. That’s why all of the software work done by Benetech and our technology development partners on Martus is open source: where the software’s source code is open for inspection. Activists have been asked to entrust proprietary tools with life and death information, and have learned recently how much that trust has been violated. We feel strongly that our open source approach, combined with intentionally designing and operating Martus to ensure that others (including Benetech) do not have access to the user’s confidential data, is critical for the best possible protection of human rights information.
With this new grant, we are able to build and enhance secure tools for human rights defenders who urgently need them, in some of the world’s most Internet-hostile countries. We invite you to check back on our blog (or sign up for our organizational newsletter) for ongoing updates on Benetech’s work.