What are the risks, challenges and opportunities for practitioners using technology for transparency?

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What are the risks, challenges and opportunities for practitioners using technology for transparency?
  • How can we ensure the security of practitioners using technology to promote transparency?  What are the protocols to follow in order to protect staff and sources while reporting corruption?
  • What challenges do practitioners face using technology to promote transparency?
  • What are the new opportunities for this work?  How can we take advantage of these opportunities?
  • How does “civic hacking” spur innovation and increase efficiency?

Share your experiences, thoughts, questions and ideas by adding a new comment below or replying to an existing comment!


To start this discussion off, here are a few tactics that I find to be useful in this discussion.

1. Using Mobile Phones for Citizen Media: bringing to light stories which might not otherwise enter the public domain, made possible by the universal presence of mobile phones. Risks, challenges and opportunities are also discussed such as protecting one’s phone and the media (and other information) on it, getting citizen media to mainstream news organizations as it happens and engaging the media in human rights.

An example of mobile phone use in a situation of strict censorship of the news comes from Zimbabwe where the shortwave radio station SW Radio Africa started sending out news headlines via SMS when their signal was jammed by the authorities.

2. In the Being Well and Staying Safe tactic, the section onHow does information communication technology fit into the work of keeping defenders safe and well?” discusses how ICT is vital to the work of defenders in an increasingly digitized age.

3. In the dialogue Using Radio to Empower and Engage is a section on success stories of using radio to promote transparency and other human rights issues.

4. Video Advocacy discusses how videos can be used for social change

5. Engaging the Media in Human Rights

I am interested to hear more about using technology to promote transparency more specifically, what has worked, what has not and the problems individuals and groups have had to deal with.

Thank you

Protecting your information

Referring to an experience of a consumer organisation in Chile. They publish material on their site about misbehavior by companies and banks and recently launched an observatory of publicity/marketing to the public. Probably for that reason the site was hacked. Not as serious as threatening somebody personally but still rather intimidating.

Specific technology is not necessary in this case, just the basic regular (daily) back up or, if resources allow, hosting the site on multiple platforms with different hosts.

Ensuring security by protecting anonymity: with TOR! |

Many times, while denouncing corruption, people reveals to much data about their activities and sites exposing corruption scandals can be subjected to heavy surveillance by authorities. A starting point to protect them can be installing Tor by alll the users: Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. Tor works with many of your existing applications, including web browsers, instant messaging clients, remote login, and other applications based on the TCP protocol.

However, TOR is not enough, each and every project with the potential of exposing people, especially citizens who are not used to act and interact using digital tools or who are unaware of the potential of their reports to expose corruption should be instructed and follow strict security protocols and read disclaimers on the security implications of for example, using SMS that could reveal their location or filling reports with all their personal details included on it.


anonymity and secure data beyond tor

I think that people creating tools need to assume that their users will by and large NOT use tools like Tor, and be aware of not just whether or not they are encrypting user data so it's truly anonymous but also where they are storing this data - and whether it could be subpoenaed. 

How can we utilize the UN and other systems to protect defenders

Thanks Ana, Renata and Hubert, for mentioning a few digital security tools for activists using technology for transparency. 

We know that practitioners working on issues like corruption and transparency are often at risk of being threatened and targeted.  It can be an incredibly sensitive issue.  I recently attended the Civicus World Assembly and there were many conversations about the shrinking space for civil society in many countries.  For more information on the research and documentation around this phenomenon, check out the Civicus report (pdf): 

Civil society: The clampdown is real - CIVICUS

Towards the end of the report, a few opportunities are mentioned - such as utilizing the United Nations systems that are in place:

A landmark resolution on the freedom of peaceful assembly and association was passed at the UN Human Rights Council at the end of September 2010. The resolution, supported by a diverse group of countries, was passed unanimously. It calls upon UN member states to abide by their international human rights obligations and establishes a Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association. The resolution was achieved after sustained lobbying and engagement by the Community of Democracies Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society, which includes a number of governments and key civil society groups. It is also quite encouraging to observe that the UN - including its highest officials - has raised strong concerns about the clampdown on civil society space and exhorted governments to do more to protect human rights defenders and provide a secure environment for civil society to operate in. The Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council that states have taken seriously has also provided a platform to highlight concerns about civil society freedoms.

Have you seen successful tactics that have utilized the UN systems such as those stated above?  What worked?  What hasn't worked so well?  Can we make these avenues more accessible?  Or, is accessing these systems (especially the Universal Periodic Review) putting people even more at risk?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks, everyone!

RTI activists murdered in India

There is a dark side to things in India, where as of August 2011, there were 12 recorded cases of Right to Information activists being *murdered* for doing their work, the most recent being Shehla Masood who was shot in cold blood, in broad daylight, while she was on her way to the Anna Hazare rally in her city. Really tragic. I think there are some links to groups who are tracking and following what is happening to RTI activists in India, and there is a recent report from the Asian centre for human rights: http://www.asianage.com/india/12-rti-activists-killed-report-calls-them-...

I really don't think these activists have been using any smart activism tools .... and maybe there needs to be more capacity building in this area


Smart activism tools for human rights defenders

MayaGanesh wrote:

I really don't think these activists have been using any smart activism tools .... and maybe there needs to be more capacity building in this area

I'm glad you shared this story, Maya, even though it is hard to hear.  I would be curious to know more about what you mean by "smart activism tools"?  Do you mean digital activism tools that are "smart" because they are able to be used a little more securely than other tools?  Thanks, Maya!


The most challenging issues to me are the non technological, from funding to engagement with the media and authorities.

Since the technological possibilities change very fast, the users also expects changes and improvements that need a constant source of funding, specially when you are developing your own framework which is our case. So the challenge is to encourage different stakeholders to support your project. Currently, we are working on a strategy to find local sponsors within Corporate social responsibility initiatives. This is challenging because we are addressing a complex topic (and political) which is urban mobility and public transportation.

It would also be great to hear from you about this topic

best, camila


The tactics I've mentioned

The tactics I've mentioned http://www.newtactics.org/en/thread/how-do-you-engage-civil-society-medi... (basically amounting to "fully open data") don't really have risks to speak of relative to those of being an activist, etc, to begin with.

However, perception of (organizational) risks by governments and NGOs can be a major challenge to practicioners advocating for/attempting to implement fully open data in these contexts. However the usually stated risks (eg someone might "misuse" data, harm reputation, compete commercially with) are basically unreasonable fears, or have nothing to do with fully open data -- the most likely bad actors don't care about copyright status, data formats, and the like. This has to be patiently eplained over and over, usually in nicer terms than I just put.

There are plenty of opportunities for practioners, both to do social good of course, but also career-wise. Becoming knowledgeable enough to effectively advocate and implement fully open data means you're way ahead of the curve. Slide 24 of http://www.slideshare.net/mlinksva/opening-the-special-library-open-sour... hits on this a bit. The whole presentation is targeted at a somewhat different audience (librarians, but they're our heros, or should be) but is rather applicable to transparency projects as well.

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