Research: Open and Secure Technology Adoption Among Asia-Pacific Human Rights Defenders

Changemakers, human rights defenders (HRDs), and civil society organisations (CSOs) that work on a range of social and environmental justice issues in the Asia-Pacific are increasingly becoming targets of state surveillance. Government agencies in the region deploy sophisticated and intrusive software technology that tracks their digital devices, spies on their activities, and collects data, all of which can support efforts to persecute them. Over the past years, surveillance equipment – including the controversial spyware Pegasus – has been used to monitor pro-democracy defenders in Thailand, senior government and military officials in Indonesia, and human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

To reduce the risk of online monitoring, civil society organisations have been actively producing digital security guides and resources localized in various languages, and promoting the use of open secure technology (OST) as counter-surveillance to prevent third parties from accessing internal communication or sensitive data. Virtual private networks (VPN), encrypted password managers, and secure messaging apps are examples of such technology.

However, despite the proven effectiveness of these technologies in increasing one’s digital safety and security, the use of OST among changemakers, HRDs, and CSOs in the Asia-Pacific remains low, and there is limited interest and even reluctance to adopt these tools​​​​​​​.

In collaboration with the Asia Centre, the Open and Secure Technology Adoption Research project aims to map digital surveillance activities and identify the gaps and levels of prioritisation in adopting counter-surveillance technology and secure communications by civil society. EngageMedia and the Asia Centre will consult HRDs and CSOs in the Asia-Pacific to understand the reasons behind the non-adoption or low prioritisation of safeguards against digital surveillance.

The gathered data will result in the following outputs in the second half of 2023:

  • A peer review of initial findings with Asia-Pacific HRDs and CSOs present at EngageMedia’s Digital Rights Festival (May 2023)
  • A research report that proposes solutions and advocates for higher and more prioritised adoption of practical and effective open and secure digital security tools
  • A campaign to raise awareness and advance the increased use of open and secure technology in the Asia-Pacific

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