Strong Crypto Safeguards Human Rights Data

Strong cryptography can safeguard critical human rights data from repressive governments that steal data in order to persecute citizens. When vulnerable citizens dare to bear witness by naming perpetrators, their crimes, and their victims, the sensitive identifying information about those witnesses must be protected. In the late 1990s, HRDAG’s Director of Research, Patrick Ball, began his work with encrypted data while documenting crimes committed by the Guatemalan national police—and strong cryptography has remained critical to all of HRDAG’s work.

Strong Crypto: An HRDAG Chronology

Patrick Ball, then with the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, made a declaration on behalf of the ACLU of Georgia v. Zell Miller, governor of Georgia, testifying with regard to the need for anonymous electronic communication in human rights work by groups such as Amnesty USA and the Carter Center, both located in Georgia.

Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference, Austin, Texas. Patrick Ball, then with the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, participated in Michael Froomkin’s panel, “Crypto and Privacy at the Fringes of Society” to provide crypto solutions for human rights organizations.

Patrick Ball, then with the AAAS, is quoted saying that human rights activists in Guatemala believed strong cryptography saved the lives of their witnesses. He’s quoted in the article “Crypto can save lives,” published by ZDNet.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Anonymizer launched the Kosovo Privacy Project, an anonymous and secure email and Web surfing service conceived by Alex Fowler and Patrick Ball to ensure that Kosovars, Serbs, and others reporting on the Kosovo War within the region were protected from reprisal by Serbian officials.

Patrick Ball advises Austin Hill, president of Zero-Knowledge Systems, in building a reputation on the privacy and human rights circuit. Hill calls for strong cryptography to protect dissidents. Ball is mentioned In the article “What price privacy?” in Canadian Business Magazine.

Patrick Ball writes a letter to Phil Zimmerman attesting to how freeware PGP has kept sensitive data safe and saved lives in Guatemala.

Patrick Ball helped Jim Fruchterman, founder of Benetech, to develop Martus, a free, open source software application that allows users anywhere in the world to securely gather and organize information about human rights violations. Patrick became Benetech’s Vice President of Human Rights and led its human rights work for nine years.

Patrick Ball was identified by the Center for Democracy and Technology, in an article titled, “Lessons Learned Too Well: The Evolution of Internet Regulation” as a person who traveled around the world to teach democratic political movements in repressive societies how to use cryptography and protect lists from rubber-hose cryptanalysis.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) convened the Workshop on Encryption and Mechanisms for Authorized Government Access to Plaintext. Participants at this workshop discussed potential encryption strategies that would enable access to plaintext information by law enforcement or national security agencies with appropriate authority. Patrick Ball, director of research at HRDAG, participated in a panel with Chris Inglis and James Baker, in which he warned against a “back door” for governments.

As a result of his panel at the NASEM workshop, Patrick Ball is quoted in an article titled, “Why is State Department silent in the global encryption debate?” as opposing the weakening of encryption technologies. “The FBI’s demand for access to all the world’s data undermines these activists — as it undermines the security of activists in the U.S., and indeed, all electronic security,” said Ball.

Patrick Ball publishes an article in Foreign Affairs, “The Case Against a Golden Key,” in which he argues that such a key, as requested by the FBI, would be unproductive and dangerous.

Patrick Ball is quoted in “Cracking Codes with Python,” by Al Sweigert. Chapter 10, on encryption and decryption, begins with his quote: “Why do security police grab people and torture them? To get their information. And hard disks put up no resistance to torture.”

Our work has been used by truth commissions, international criminal tribunals, and non-governmental human rights organizations. We have worked with partners on projects on five continents.