Recently I’ve been investigating the use of encrypted email – more to say on that in another post – but I have encountered two groups that create software specifically designed to help human rights workers document human rights abuse. In both cases, the information is entered by workers and is encrypted so it cannot be recovered except by the appropriate authorities.
The first organization I want to mention is BeneTech, which I encountered over a year ago. Their Martus Global Social Justice Monitoring System makes it possible for rights workers to document cases securely, and export them for action.
Another of these organizations is the CryptoRights Foundation who says “The global human rights community relies on its ability to communicate safely, yet too often it exposes its members to more danger, due to lack of practical privacy options. “ Their web site contains a lot of background on why and how software can be helpful. They’re in alpha on systems which would make it easier for offices of NGOs to securely document and transfer information.
A third solution, that’s apparently been there for as long as years, is Hushmail which provides an Outlook plug-in that uses the Open PGP standard to encrypt email. They also provide a webmail solution – so individuals can send and receive secure email using only a web browser (from internet cafes as well as from their home or office computers).
And, can’t forget PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) which has provided email and other encryption tools for years. Their tools allow users of Outlook, Entourage, Eudora and other emailers to encrypt email, and their founder, Phil Zimmermann, has been at the vanguard of the movement to make encryption widely available since 1991.
There are contentious issues surrounding the use of encryption. Before 2001, in the US, encryption was recognized as a good technique for human rights workers—see this TechWeb article for example, or this BBC News article for more info from 1998 and 1999. After September 11, 2001, the climate changed somewhat and encryption has been more controversial, since the technology doesn’t play favorites, and can be used by anyone – not just by rights workers. For an interesting, more up-to-date review of the issues, check out Privaterra
And I’ll be back with more information about email encryption next time.