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April 29 2013

AFTE Releases Legal Guide to Digital Security for Arab Human Rights Activists

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, in Egypt, has issued a “legal guide to digital security” as part of its digital freedoms program. The guide was produced for campaigners and human rights activists and lawyers interested in digital freedom of expression and the confidentiality of communications and information stored on mobile phones, computers or any other device used to store or distribute data or information. They argue that security problems can present a risk to both users and others, particularly in the case of users living under repressive regimes that restrict freedom of expression and the right to privacy and in countries where activists using the internet and other digital services often face vague charges such as “misuse of communications networks” or “insulting individuals and organisations by means of digital publishing.”

The legal guide to digital security is divided into two parts: the first is a technical manual for ways to secure data and information and how to combat snooping or infiltration; the second is a collection of legal advice for people facing prosecution charged with publishing digital content illegally.

The guide, published as part of the digital freedoms program by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, stands out for its emphasis on the legal aspects of digital security and its attempt to explain the most important aspects to be considered during investigations and trials related to crimes of digital publication, where the perpetrators often enjoy a greater degree of anonymity than is the case with other crimes. The technical part of the guide provides a number of tools for digital safety related to browsing, file editing, data storage, restoring lost files, combating viruses and thwarting snooping attempts as well as other tools.

Click here to view the paper [ar].

January 25 2013

Open Source Design Tools for Human Rights Activists

photo by andymangold on creative commons

This article first appeared in Huffington Post.

The world's premier human rights organizations often have entire communications teams with dedicated graphic designers to celebrate their work. But not every organization can afford to have a designer. Even those organizations that do have design gurus may decide, for strategic reasons, to keep tight control over their workflow so that they are not bombarded with too many requests. Not to worry! There are several open source design tools that allow anyone to create killer flyers, posters, icons, or campaign—the only limit is your imagination. More importantly, learning basic design allows you to approach your human rights work more creatively and reach audiences with more diverse forms of storytelling.

Open Source programs are different from resources that allow you to use an account for free up to a certain amount, and they do not require you to upgrade or purchase more capacity. When downloading each of the programs below, I recommend that you download the stable version for your platform (this will be clearly marked on the Download site). Stable versions lack the bells and whistles of experimental versions of software, but they won't crash after you've just filled in your thousandth pixel with burnt umber. All of these programs and tools are supported by voluminous YouTube instructional videos and Wikis. Just run a search online.

The Big 3: GIMP, Inkscape, and Scribus


GIMP is a complex photo editing program that is the closest corollary to Adobe Photoshop. Use GIMP to touch up photos with its staggering array of filters and tools. Once you get the hang of GIMP, you can branch out into using layers to mash up images.


Inkscape is a vector-based drawing program similar to Adobe Illustrator. Vector-based drawing uses mathematical formulas to create images. Unlike GIMP, which generally edits pixels, the resolution stays sharp at any size because all images are scalable according to a formula defined by paths and functions. Use Inkscape to create icons, logos, and cool shapes. Inkscape is probably the most difficult of these three programs to use, so be patient.


Have you ever used Microsoft Word and fought it for 30 minutes as it kept pushing a line of text onto a separate page? This happens because Word attempts to predict where you want to place objects on the page based on its own internal layout engine. Scribus is a powerful desktop publishing platform that bears similarity to Adobe inDesign and enables you to precisely place objects on a page. This makes it very useful, but also frustrating for Word users because it will not do any of the heavy lifting for you. Use Scribus to produce infographics, flyers, posters, postcards, and even business cards.

W3C and SEO Searches

If you are composing blog entries for your organization on WordPress or Drupal, you may occasionally need to know some basic HTML. This is where the World Wide Web Consortium comes in. This nonprofit offers a number of helpful tutorials that tell you the basics of tagging, aligning images, and creating tables. Once you've created your post, check out this short, insightful guide to search engine optimization (SEO) at Global Voices advocacy and also look at their other tools.

Creative Commons

Founded 10 years ago, Creative Commons has revolutionized the use of media on- and off-line by creating simple licenses for users to remix or reproduce work. As more and more services (such as Flickr) sign up, so too do the number of search options available for finding media on the Creative Commons site. While it's always great to support artists by paying for a high-quality, beautiful photo or graphic if your organization can afford it, go to Creative Commons to find images that you can use and modify. Good netiquette says that you should always credit the author if s/he demands it under the license.

Open Clip Art Library

clipart by jean_victor_balin

clipart by jean_victor_balin

Sometimes you don't need an image or graphic, but a simple icon. Open Clip Art has thousands of free icons that you can use. These are available in both PNG format and SVG (scalable vector graphic) format, which is used by Inkscape. This means that you can just plug the icon into GIMP or use it on Inkscape to scale it to the appropriate size.


Sometimes you design a cool image but then can't come up with a good color scheme. As I was composing this piece, a colleague showed me a great tool called Color Hunter, which allows you to extract a palette from a photo that you upload. I don't know if Color Hunter is Open Source or privately owned, so I can't vouch for it.

Do you know of other open source tools?

I'd love to hear them. You can reach me at deji[at]

Thanks to @lottydotty and @cantaloupealone for their expert design advice.

Deji Olukotun is the Ford Foundation Freedom to Write Fellow at PEN American Center. A human rights attorney and writer, his novel Nigerians in Space will be released in 2013 by Ricochet Books.

Reposted byschlingel schlingel

January 22 2013

Resources: Guide to Creating Facebook Pages with Impact

This post was originally published on our sister website Rising Voices.

It's no small task for small organizations and activists to put together a strategic Facebook page, and navigating around Facebook's setup pages can be confusing. Originally published in Arabic, Social Media Exchange (SMEX) just released the English version of their booklet Creating Facebook Pages with Impact. Breaking down how to use Facebook pages for activists, it addresses both technical aspects and management strategies.

Originally the booklet was developed to to support advocacy and activism in Arabic societies, and includes several examples from the Arab world - but its use is potentially global.

SMEX Facebook guide in English

The booklet was developed for people with intermediate-level Internet skills… so you don't need to be a hacker to use it.

Beginning with clear guidelines on page setup, the booklet directs the page creator to exactly which buttons to click or the meanings of various setup options. After a clear explanation of laying the “pages” versus “groups,” producing content, and publishing, the booklet goes on to address management techniques with strategic questions: is the page about raising awareness, generating donations, educating supporters, or improving internal communications?

Creating Facebook Pages with Impact also discusses:
- How to promote and manage the page
- Updating the page and developing a posting schedule
- How to best link to the rest of your social media outlets
- Security

It is be useful not only for setting up a page, but also for organisations that already have one: it neatly breaks down Facebook's “insights” (statistics) and how to use these to your advantage.

This version is the newest update with recent Facebook changes taken into account. It can be downloaded from SMEX's website in English, as can the original version in Arabic.

And you can always look up the SMEX Facebook page to see how they do it.

September 09 2011

Cameras Everywhere: Current Challenges and Opportunities at the Intersection of Human Rights, Video and Technology

This is a guest blog entry by Sam Gregory Program Director of WITNESS.

I’m pleased to announce the launch of our new report: “Cameras Everywhere: Current Challenges and Opportunities at the Intersection of Human Rights, Video and Technology.” You can read and download it on our website. The report, like the initiative of the same name, aims to ensure that the thousands of people turning to video for human rights can do so as effectively, safely and ethically as possible.

The revolutions of the “Arab Spring” and the ongoing struggles for change in Libya, Syria and other parts of the world constantly remind us that cell phones, video and the Internet are playing a major role in the social and political change movements of our time. Our report notes the opportunities presented by this rapidly changing landscape as well as some of the risks and challenges, mainly to individual activists who risk their lives bearing witness and standing up for change.

Beyond taking stock of this new visual-media heavy landscape, our report makes specific recommendations to companies, organizations and individuals in the sectors of technology, policy, human rights, and civil society as well as those who fund and invest in such endeavors.

This report was developed by a team at WITNESS including myself, Bryan Nunez (our Technology Manager), and Yvette Alberdingk Thijm (our Executive Director). And the lead researcher and author was our former Hub Manager, Sameer Padania. Our insights and recommendations are based on interviews with over 40 experts and practitioners in the fields of technology, media, technology and policy including people like Bob Boorstin (Director, Public Policy, Google), danah boyd (Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research), Steve Grove (YouTube News & Politics), Joi Ito (Director, Media Lab, MIT), and Marietje Schaake (Member of European Parliament).

We hope you will find the findings of the report thought-provoking and that you will join us in engaging with the technology, human rights and policy fields to support and advocate for the recommendations. You can read more about the next steps we are taking here. Visit the Cameras Everywhere Report section of our website for more on the report.  And we invite you to return to the blog for forthcoming posts focused on specific recommendations of the report and guest author perspectives on some of the topics.

If you are a member of the press, please visit our press release for more information and to request interviews.

June 21 2011

Anonymous Blogging with WordPress and Tor guide in Spanish

Blogueo Anónimo con Wordpress y Tor

The Anonymous Blogging with WordPress and Tor guide is now available in Spanish thanks to this translation by our dear contributor Marianne Diaz.

The guide outlines several methods of protecting one’s identity in order to avoid retaliation and can considerably reduce the risks that a blogger’s identity will be linked to his or her online writings through technical means.

Blogueo Anónimo con WordPress y Tor is availble for download as a PDF file. You may need to install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it.

Please download the guide and help disseminate this important information. Feel free as well to help us translating the guide into your own language.

The guide is also available in the following languages:


For further information please contact us at: advocacy [ at ] globalvoicesonline [ dot ] org

Blogueo Anónimo con Wordpress y Tor

May 26 2011

Mobile Tactics for Participants in Peaceful Assemblies

If you are participating in a peaceful assembly as a journalists, rights defender, or activists, your mobile phone is an invaluable asset. It allows you to communicate with allies, to document the event, and bear witness to what is happening around you. At the same time, you should take certain precautions in your mobile use and communications. The following Guide can help you to utilize your mobile phone during peaceful assemblies effectively and, at the same time, better protect yourself.

Assess Mobile Risks

In most public assemblies, you face risks from:

  • Loss and seizure of your mobile phone;
  • Disruptions to service from hardware or network failures;
  • Surveillance of your communications.

Understand the Value of Information on your Mobile Phone

1. Videos and Photos

The photos and videos that you capture as a participant in a peaceful assembly are valuable documentation. For example, suppose you encounter an incident on the street and are able to capture footage of the event on your mobile. This evidence can be important to refute false information about an assembly or can be used as proof that the incident occurred. The footage might also be useful as proof of wrongdoing by someone (such as a police officer).

2. Your Private Information

Your mobile phone stores large amounts of private information. See the Primer on Mobile Risks for more specifics about the data stored on your mobile. Your mobile may contain your contact list, text messages, call logs, web browsing history, notes, and documents.

This kind of information could expose your work and your networks. It could easily be misused and shouldn’t be made available to anyone without your knowledge. Always be aware of the content you have on your mobile phone and use available security (such as a pin code, keypad autolock, phone autolock, lock code… etc). We will be publishing specific Lockdown Guides for instructions about using available security on your mobile device.

What To Do Before Joining a Peaceful Assembly

The following suggestions will help you maintain the stability of your communications and the safety of your information:

1. Back Up Your Mobile Content

You could easily lose your phone in a demonstration (it could fall, be stolen, confiscated by a police officer, snatched by someone). Back up all content off your mobile phone to a secure computer. Be sure to include contacts, messages, logs, media, and any other content that you believe is important. You can then format your phone, deleting all content and records. After the event, you can safely restore the content from your back-up to your device.

2. Carry a Spare Mobile Battery

Although you might have a sense of how long a demonstration will take, it’s hard to guess how things will develop. You might use your mobile for many tasks and the battery might die. Always keep with you at least one extra battery and your charger, if possible. Practice how to change your mobile batteries quickly.

3. Keep Important Information on a Piece of Paper

Write down a few important contacts on a small piece of paper and keep it with you because you might lose your mobile phone and access to your mobile contact list in an emergency. For example, write down contact information for your family, a lawyer, doctor, journalist and human rights organization.

4. Recharge your Credit

If your service plan plan is prepaid, don’t forgot to charge your SIM card. You don’t know how many phone calls you will make or how much data you will upload online.

5. Explore Network Strength

If possible, make a short visit to the location of the assembly and explore the spots where there is high, medium and poor coverage. If you plan to have a WiFi device with you, also note the location (and security!) of any open Wifi networks.

6. Cross-Post

If you are planning to send text updates via Facebook or Twitter, or planning to send pictures to Flickr or Twitpic, connect your accounts to make sure your content will be spread and circulated online in different communities once you post an update or picture or start a live-stream. If you are concerned about the security of this approach, consider setting up a special set of accounts on social websites prior to the assembly without your personal information.

7. Bookmark

Don’t forget to bookmark the links to social websites and online tools you are planning to use. Remember to bookmark the mobile version of the social websites (for instance,,,… etc).

Know your Mobile Phone

1. Explore your Mobile Keypad

  • You can minimize the risk of being observed using your phone if you know how the letters and numbers are distributed on your phone’s buttons. Many people can type “hi, how are you” on the computer keyboard while chatting without looking to the keyboard. You also need to know how to type a short text message (SMS) without looking to your mobile keypad. If you become more familiar with your mobile keypad, you will be able to send a message without looking at the keypad.
  • You can save time and effort by knowing shortcuts. Many phones have shortcuts to access mobile applications, like a shortcut to activate the camera for instance. Know and practice those shortcuts without looking at the phone so you can activate an application when necessary.If possible, set-up menu shortucs. In some mobiles, you just need to match the order of the icons in your mobile menu with the order of numbers on your mobile keypad.

2. Explore your Mobile Camera

Know how to optimize your mobile camera to do what you want safely and effectively. Become familiar with how your camera operates and how to control its options. You could get arrested if you are taking a picture of a police officer beating someone, and the flash of your camera gets the officer’s attention. The sound of the camera when you click capture might also draw attention to you so pre-set functions to avoid getting noticed by others.

What To Do During a Peaceful Assembly

1. Assess Your Physical Risk and Police Presence

Your personal safety should always be a priority while taking pictures and videos in a peaceful assembly or sending text messages and web updates. Understand how far you are from security and anti-riot forces and how close to any police vans. Ideally, visit the assembly site prior to the event to become familiar with the location and routes if violence occurs. You don’t have to panic. Just keep your eyes open.

2. Assess Network Coverage and Internet Access

Before you decide to send updates through Twitter or live-stream with tools such as Bambuser, check if you are in a position with enough coverage to support what you want to do online. Keep in mind that the coverage could suddenly drop. Make sure you understand your livestream options and set up accounts prior to the event. This guide might help you to use Bambuser and you will find here other tools.

3. Choose Your Tactics

You can document a peaceful assembly in different forms (via text, video, and picture). You must decide what you want to do based on the situation itself.

  • If things are calm you can take pictures and send text updates.
  • If violence is taking place you can turn on your camera and start video-recording events. If you are lucky and there is Internet access you can live-stream what is happening. If you want to inform your friends, lawyers, or anyone else about what is happening via text-message, try to do it without looking to your keypad.

10 Useful Tips

  • Do not make too many phone calls when you are in a peaceful assembly. It’s better to pass information via SMS. Using SMS enables you to circulate information one-to-many faster, in less time and with less effort, and you won’t consume as much battery. Consider though that you might face message delivery delays due to network issues (either incidental due to network congestion or intentional by security services) and that your phone communication may be under surveillance.
  • Keep the memory card in your phone (or camera) as empty as possible so that you can store all pictures and videos you take while being in the demonstration or protest. If possible, bring multiple memory cards to use when needed. Practice changing memory cards in your mobile quickly and without looking and store full memory cards securely in a safe place in case you are arrested.
  • Try to upload all pictures you have on your mobile online as soon as you have internet access to avoid losing the content if you lose your mobile. (You can upload using or, for instance.)
  • Carry a spare SIM card if you can. In some instances, mobile network operators shut down the numbers of known activists or specific individuals. If you believe that your number may be targeted, and if you can afford to do so, carry an extra SIM card. If you notice that your service is unavailable, try switching SIMs. Changing SIM cards does not mean that you are anonymizing your phone use. Your mobile phone is still identifiable by a unique number on the device itself and, of course, to any SIM card inserted.
  • Keep your mobile silent and turn the vibration on. No need to get the attention of people surrounding you.
  • Some mobiles provide a security level usually known as remote-lock. It enables you to lock your mobile by sending SMS with particular keyword you previously set to your mobile if you suddenly lost it. For example, if a police officer snatched your mobile and left, you can simply send an SMS from any mobile with that particular keyword to lock your phone.
  • If you will be posting content online, write important links in an SMS and save it as a draft. You can just copy-paste the links if your mobile supports this feature.
  • If you expect to send a particular message to someone, prepare it in your drafts. That will save you time, and you can just click “send” when you want to send it. For example, you can write down “arrested” followed by your name in a message and pick your recipients and save it as a draft.
  • Consider mobile applications such as SaferMobile InTheClear application. InTheClear lets you preset an emergency SMS to a set of contacts (Shout!) with a single menu click (Panic!). InTheClear also allows you to unobtrusively erase your address book from your phone (Wipe!), should it have been taken from you. You can learn more about IntheClear here and sign up as a beta tester.

December 11 2009

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