Testimonies. Field investigations. The voices of victims and witnesses continue to be the richest and most central source of information for human rights advocacy and research. Stories form the core of human rights data and the foundation for the human rights community’s demands for truth, redress and justice for the victims of gross abuses.
Human rights defenders often work in vulnerable environments: sometimes the same state agents whose crimes activists are documenting steal the activists’ computers or tap their Internet connections. Benetech (www.benetech.org) works with partners, as we develop Martus (Greek for “witness”, www.martus.org) to protect human rights activists, witnesses and victims in those environments.
Martus was designed to protect human rights defenders collecting information to support advocacy in dangerous contexts. Many HRP partners are involved in contentious debates about violence carried out by national security forces. Some are documenting violations during ongoing conflicts. Others have gathered extensive data about past abuses. These situations, and growing awareness of the risks to electronic data, have led human rights groups around the world to seek out Martus partnerships with us.
Private information is automatically encrypted by Martus on a user’s local computer, so that if an organization’s computers are lost or stolen, then sensitive information cannot be read without the authorization of the person who created it. Martus backs up the encrypted information to a network of secure servers around the world, so that if users’ computers are lost or stolen, then irreplaceable testimonies and investigations can be recovered.
Our task now is to rethink how the software contributes to human rights advocacy, maintaining our focus on security while adding new devices and architectures, better performance, and new analytic and visualization tools. We need to ensure that Martus does an even better job of advancing the cause of using human rights abuse stories for positive change.
More and more human rights activists/journalists need secure mobile tools for doing data collection – while there are many mobile data collection tools available, many of them are not secure, putting the data collectors and their sources at risk. Our goal is to build in Martus-level security to tools used smart-phones, greatly enhancing their ability to do their work unobtrusively and safely in the field.
We are now looking to extend the Martus Server platform to support the secure storage of surveys, photos and videos collected with mobile apps. Two open source Android apps that we would like to integrate into the Martus ecosystem are KoboCollect, a survey tool, and ObscuraCam, a photo app created by The Guardian Project for human rights activists
We would like to build a “Send to Martus” mobile Martus API prototype, initially on Android. This would allow data collected on Android phones (text and image/video/audio attachments) to be sent securely to Martus servers for later load into laptop/desktop Martus for editing/organizing/analyzing. Initially we would like to develop options to work with basic Android native tools and basic data, but may eventually also want to integrate with Tor, mobile collection tools for more structured data (E.g. questionnaires), or investigate IOS options as well.
Martus is open source, written in Java, for Windows/Mac/Linux. Mobile prototypes should be security focused and be developed using open-source libraries.