Protecting human rights comes in many forms. Some human rights defenders are lawyers, defending clients against violations of their basic humanity. Some are journalists, exposing corruption and the secret injustices that might otherwise hide behind power. Some are activists, working in politics and in their communities to give support to those who might not be able to defend themselves.
And some human rights defenders are technologists: building tools to defend or enhance the practice of human rights, and calling out the errors or lies of those who might misuse technology against its users.
At this year's Internet Governance Forum in Berlin, civil society groups mourned a growing trend around the world: the targeted harassment and detention of digital rights defenders by the powerful. Digital rights defenders includes technologists who work to create or investigate digital tools, and who work to improve the security and privacy of vital infrastructure like the Internet, and e-voting devices. As the declaration, drafted and signed by a coalition of civil liberties organizations, including EFF, Access Now, Amnesty International, Article 19, the Association for Progressive Communications, Derechos Digitales, and Human Rights Watch, notes:
The work digital rights defenders do in defense of privacy is fundamental for the protection of human rights. When they raise awareness about the existence of vulnerabilities in systems, they allow the public and private sector to find solutions that improve infrastructure and software security for the benefit of the public. Furthermore, their work as security advisers for journalists and human rights activists is of vital importance for the safety of journalists, activists and other human rights defenders.
The problem is not confined to, but is particular pressing in Latin America. As 2019 draws to a close, Swedish security researcher Ola Bini remains in a state of legal limbo in Ecuador after a politically-led prosecution sought to connect his work building secure communication tools to a vague and unsubstantiated conspiracy of Wikileaks-related hacking. Meanwhile in Argentina, e-voting activist Javier Smaldone remains the target of a tenuous hacking investigation.
All our organizations remain committed to ensuring justice is served in these cases, and to convey to governments in the Americas and the rest of the world that vague cybercrime laws and hacker panics should never be used to silence digital rights defenders—or any innocent technology user or creator.