The ubiquity and penetration rate of mobile phones increasingly makes them the documentation tool of choice for those who research, witness and record human rights abuses. At Benetech, we see this as an opportunity to bring some of the strong encryption we offer in the desktop closer to the field.
Ten years ago we built Martus to empower human rights practitioners to securely gather and preserve evidence of abuses and use it to advance their causes. Today, human rights practitioners around the world rely on the Martus desktop tool to securely store, share and back up the sensitive information they collect. However, with heightened digital security risks and the increasing use of mobile phones as information gathering and documentation tools, human rights defenders now urgently need improved technology for secure documentation via mobile devices.
Here’s the challenge: using the Martus desktop tool to secure and store sensitive information gathered on a smartphone has been time-consuming, insecure, or both. Until now, there has been no seamless way to transfer data from a phone into a Martus account without allowing someone else (like your email provider) to see the data, or without putting your phone or computer at risk of contracting viruses and malware (such as with a USB cable).
Last week that changed when we released Mobile Martus 1.0—Benetech’s free, open source secure Android-based mobile documentation application, built on our Martus technology. Mobile Martus allows you to send data from the field—including photos, videos, audio or text—to a desktop Martus account (on your computer or belonging to someone else you designate). You can do so quickly and easily, whenever you have a data connection. That is, if you’re able to send an email or check Twitter from your phone, you can also send Mobile Martus data.
Mobile Martus is now available to view and download at the Google Play store. It is part of our ongoing effort to service the larger community involved in human rights documentation, including journalists and citizen reporters. Mobile Martus has been made possible by support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Radio Free Asia’s Open Technology Fund and the Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Mobile Martus in a nutshell
Mobile Martus is designed to bring secure data collection, storage and backup one step closer to the field. Its design is informed by the following principles:
- Encrypt always. All of your Mobile Martus data (known as “bulletins”) are always encrypted on the phone before they are sent. Your connection to the Martus server is also always encrypted, and the data on the server as well. There is no way to turn these features off.
- Attach anything. Attach any number of files of any size or type to a Mobile Martus bulletin. Once inside Martus, the attachments are encrypted as well.
- Not a stand-alone app. Mobile Martus will only work when connected to a Martus server and configured to send to a specified Martus desktop account (yours or someone else’s) on a computer, where the Mobile Martus data can be viewed, organized and analyzed, and possibly combined with other data.
- Send-only. For security reasons, no encrypted data from Martus or Mobile Martus can ever be read on your phone. Even after you create and send a bulletin, only the desktop Martus account that you designate will be able to read that bulletin. That way, if someone gets access to your phone, they won’t have access to your Martus bulletins.
- Works with Tor. If you want to disguise your connection to Martus servers, or if Martus servers are blocked in your area, you can easily configure Mobile Martus to send information via Tor, a network of virtual tunnels that allows users to improve their privacy and security on the Internet.
- Simple to use. Once configured, sending a bulletin is a few clicks away.
- Integrates with existing apps. Just like you share a photo, video or other file to Facebook, email, or SMS from other apps, you can use the same feature to send encrypted data to Martus.
- Android only. Mobile Martus 1.0 is available for Android 2.3.4+. We may expand to other mobile operating systems in the future, but the app is currently available only for Android devices.
- Free. Martus and Mobile Martus will always be free to download, and free to copy and share.
- Open source. All of the Mobile Martus source code is public and available for review. Transparency, accountability and independent verifiability have been core to the Martus project since it was first conceived, and Mobile Martus is no different.
If you are a reporter or human rights activist in the field and use Mobile Martus to record an incident of abuse, you will be able to quickly send an encrypted copy of your documentation to your desktop Martus account via a secure Martus server before your phone is confiscated, lost, stolen or damaged, avoiding the loss of that information as a result. You can later open the desktop Martus account on your computer and download that data from the server. The data and the connection will have been encrypted for the entire journey, from phone to server to computer.
We are very excited to release Mobile Martus 1.0. We see it as a big step forward in our continuous effort to make strong security accessible to the growing community involved in human rights documentation.
While Mobile Martus is designed with security in mind, smartphones are vulnerable, so please make sure you understand the security risks before deciding to use one to collect or share sensitive information that may put you or others in danger. If you’d like to learn more about how to secure your smartphone, the information provided by Security in-a-box is a good starting place.