The technology, censorship and surveillance landscape is changing rapidly. Over the past months, we have seen an increasing need for support on digital attacks on human rights defenders, journalists and activists globally: while China is intensifying its censorship and blocking search engines like Google and social media websites, the military coup in Thailand in May of this year led to increased measures of repression and censorship throughout the country. Furthermore, Russia passed new laws to tighten its grip on blogging and social media, and is fast to acquire more powers to block Internet services originating abroad. Worldwide, bloggers and activists are being attacked and arrested such as the six bloggers of the Zone Nine blogging Collective in Ethiopia, Global Voices author and analyst in Tajikistan, as well as multiple bloggers and journalists in the Middle East.

Getting access to data, preferably personal data, is becoming more and more popular. It is used to profile individuals and organisations, track their activities and map networks. Fortunately, the counter-movement is also increasing. Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP) was able to support more organisations in repressive countries than in previous quarters, offering direct support, and advice to mitigate digital emergencies of at risk communities to a total of 473 users and 24 organisations. Furthermore, DDP collaborated with Virtual Road in their immediate response after the Heartbleed vulnerability was discovered, scanning over 3000 websites covering topics on freedom of expression. The requests for support – either direct advise, or grants – in situation of political upheaval, repression or conflict have led to several new connections in our continuously expanding network, for example in Thailand, Brazil and Zimbabwe.

Brokering support

An increasing way of support happened through brokering. The DDP is a trusted port of call for 49 human rights defenders and media- organisations at risk, who reached out to the DDP for advice on a digital emergency response – either directly or through intermediary organisations. In these cases the DDP often functions as a node in digital threat mitigation efforts. This way, it can broker third party intervention from an extensive network of lawyers, technical specialists and training organisations with specific experience in this area.

Overall, there is a clear sign that governments around the world intend to censor information and use more complex surveillance systems to track individuals as well as organizations. DDP sees that the need for support and training as well as brokering is therefore increasing. In the coming time, not only grants and advice will continue, but the program will also look into a more structural way of securing organizations and human right defenders.