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Community Updates

How we’re thinking about community safety and security

This blog post is the first in a series highlighting ongoing efforts to support community safety and security, wellness, and resiliency at RightsCon Tunis.

At the very first RightsCon event, the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference in 2011, we opened with keynotes from Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El-Fatah and Thai journalist Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Chiranuch faced criminal charges for the comments posted on her independent news site because what was said was deemed offensive to the monarchy. Alaa was charged under harsh anti-protest laws and has only recently been released from prison after five years behind bars for participating in peaceful demonstrations.

From the early days of RightsCon, we have worked to create a platform and a gathering space for courageous people like Alaa and Chiranuch, who are fighting for human rights under the most challenging circumstances. Coming together is in itself an important act of solidarity, and the RightsCon program is designed to generate clear next steps for those of us working to push back against the shrinking spaces for freedom of expression and democratic participation across the globe.

As we prepare for June, we’ve been taking the time to reflect on how we can address the evolving safety concerns that many, including Access Now staff, are experiencing in the current political climate. We’re publishing this blog post to provide insight into the behind-the-scenes work being done for RightsCon Tunis, share our current practices and approaches, and open the door for community members to reach out to us with insights, questions, or concerns.

The context

As many in our communities are all too aware, the cost of speaking up is increasing, all around the world. Researchers exposing corporate surveillance practices have been targeted by undercover agents. Journalists and bloggers are experiencing mounting attacks, arrests, and convictions. Activists’ families are being threatened and abused as a method of coercing dissenting voices into silence. Today’s pervasive data collection — such as through national digital identity programs that determine access to public services or increasingly sophisticated police surveillance systems that leverage technologies like facial recognition — is putting the lives of human rights defenders at risk.

The need to connect, strategize, and plan for a better future has never been greater. As an organization that works, funds, trains, and convenes a community toward that end, we understand the growing responsibility we have to facilitate a space and platform that adapts to the needs of and realities the RightsCon community faces.

This is part of the reason we chose Tunisia as the destination for our eighth summit. As an emerging democracy, the country is a needed platform for the region’s reporters, organizers, and innovators. It is also a hopeful example in a world moving toward authoritarianism. In recent years, it has become home to a growing number of civil society organizations and has hosted important conversations that have strengthened protections for human rights.

Our approach

We’re consulting with trusted partners in Tunisia and around the world. Through ongoing conversations, we’re listening to and learning from organizations about the challenges various at-risk communities are facing, and we’re working together to ensure that everyone who attends RightsCon is equipped with the information and resources they need to have a highly productive and positive experience. If you or one of your partners would like to participate in this process, you can let us know by reaching out to [email protected].

We’re adapting our program to support sensitive conversations. The RightsCon program is community-sourced and publicly available, as is registration to the summit. When necessary, for particularly sensitive sessions, we’ll provide rooms that are private or invite-only to facilitate the candid conversations required to drive change.

We’re developing general and technical security guides. Building on previous resources from our Digital Security Helpline, we’ll be providing additional tips on traveling and steps you can take to stay safe online and off. More broadly, we’re working to make all logistical information as accessible as possible, in an effort to support a seamless participant experience in the lead-up to and throughout RightsCon.

We’re developing and strengthening policies and response mechanisms. To safeguard community well-being at RightsCon, our planning involves analyzing and establishing preventative and reactive measures for issues such as physical safety and security threats; technical emergencies; and Code of Conduct violations. We’ll be sharing key updates on these policies with the RightsCon community over the next two months.

We’re committed to empowering individuals with the information and resources they need to make informed decisions about their participation at RightsCon. As in every circumstance, security is best managed on a case-by-case basis, with each of us taking into account our own unique set of challenges and making intentional choices about the risks we assume. If you have concerns or considerations that may impact your involvement in RightsCon, we want to hear from you. Feel free to contact us at [email protected] with any questions you may have about the processes available to support you throughout the event and to learn more about our ongoing efforts.

If you would like assistance in putting together a personalized plan for improving your security while traveling to and participating in RightsCon — or more generally in the work you do to support human rights — we encourage you to contact Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline. The team is well-placed to help you build a threat model and to identify tools and tactics that respond to your specific needs.

The power of RightsCon comes from each and every participant that gathers. We’re excited to welcome you in Tunis, and look forward to communicating key updates and new initiatives for supporting the community and facilitating our best summit yet.