Report: Forging Careers in Human Rights Information Security Today

Aspiration has worked with and in support of information security trainers and capacity builders in the human rights sector for over a decade.

We have witnessed the growth of this community of practice from local to international levels, appreciating the opportunity to observe how the outcomes of the work of hundreds of practitioners worldwide have had a critical impact on the security, sustainability and efficiency of human rights organizations and individual activists.

With the goal of more deeply understanding the context in which they currently operate, we spent the past 6 months conducting a small-scale survey of selected information security practitioners.

Our investigation aimed to engage individuals whose work represents different facets of the information security services provided to human rights organizations.

Our hope was to achieve a clearer understanding of what resources exist in support of their work, and what challenges and gaps hinder their practice and impact the contributions they are able to provide to the field.

We are most grateful to all the interviewees for taking the time to share their knowledge and experiences with us.

A summary of findings is provided below.

Download the report in pdf format.

This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International (CCBY-SA 4.0) license.

Scope of engagement

Our survey aimed to get a clearer picture of the systemic infrastructure within which information security trainers and capacity builders work today.

Research was structured around consultations with practitioners supporting human rights organizations, in different professional roles, circumstances and contexts.

The investigation focused on identifying existing resources and frameworks designed to sustain their operations, as well as the systemic challenges and gaps that they experience and deem critical to address.

The practitioners we invited to join our survey have lived and worked as security trainers and capacity builders in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, West Africa, Latin America, North America.

The interviews were conducted in English.

Due to the limited resources and time available to conduct the survey, we were not able to include a wider demographic representation.

This survey does not aim to provide a comprehensive overview. However, we believe our findings may constitute a helpful contribution to broader analyses of the human rights ecosystem and its sustainability.

Summary of findings

The accounts shared during practitioner interviews allowed us to snapshot some of the key strengths and shortcomings of the infrastructure within which security practitioners operate today.

Collaboration and cooperation are the backbone of this community of practice, and fuel the co-creation and cultivation of peer learning spaces, training curricula, trainer resources, and mentorship paths.

Funders and resource providers are focused like never before on being on the side of this growing network of practitioners, and are in an ongoing dialog with them to best tailor their offer to the demand.

On the other hand, we also recognize the fragility and transitoriness of several factors affecting the professional context of information security professionals.

Our interviews outline several gaps in what should be provided by an infrastructure designed to strengthen their sustainability and impact.

The following is a brief summary of the needs that resonated the most in the survey interviews.

  • New and varied professional development efforts, focusing on a wider use of Training of Trainers (ToT) methodologies and resources, spaces to engage in peer-to-peer knowledge and skill sharing, long-term inter-generational mentoring relationships.
  • Support of operational development and sustainability for security practitioners working independently or in small nonprofits.
  • Operational “back office” business skills and corresponding consultancy services supporting business management tasks like accounting, fundraising and grant writing.
  • Well-resourced paths concerning practitioner health and safety, including insurance models for different kinds of threats, depending on the nature of the service provided and the context in which an individual operates, and health care resources to recover from mental or physical trauma incurred on the job.
  • Financial support over extended periods of time for long-term capacity building initiatives in support of human rights organizations.
  • Trustworthy aggregators of information about emerging technology and security threats.
  • Intermediary initiatives or organizations with the mandate to drive long-term efforts dedicated to strengthening the sustainability and strategic development of the information security ecosystem.

Following up on the findings from this limited survey, we believe that it is critical for the sector to acquire a clearer understanding of the infrastructure that exists in support of information security practitioners, and of the challenges and gaps that hinder their profession and the contributions they can make to the human rights field.

In the conclusion to our report, we also present a selection of proposed next steps aimed at working towards an improved and sustainable infrastructure.

Most importantly, we believe that for this effort to strive for long term sustainability, it should be community-designed, community-led, and community-owned.

Credits

We are grateful to the interviewees for contributing their knowledge and time, and for allowing us to explore a wide spectrum of questions and issues together.

  • Abir Ghattas, Information Security Technologist, Human Rights Watch
  • Amanda Hickman, Factful/ Security Training in the Newsroom editor
  • Azeenarh Mohammed, Information Security Trainer
  • Cheekay Cinco, Freelance Trainer and Facilitator
  • Mario Felaco, Digital Security Trainer/ Director of Con-nexo
  • Maya Richman, Engine Room/ Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice
  • Martin Shelton, User Researcher
  • Natasha Msonza, Co-founder of Digital Society of Zimbabwe
  • Norman Shamas, Information Security and Privacy Specialist
  • Sarah Aoun, Information Security Trainer
  • Szeming, Open Technology Fund Digital Integrity Fellow

A particular thank you goes to Ali Ravi, Confabium, for contributing his feedback on this report and the potential efforts that could strengthen the sustainability of the practitioner community and those who they support.

Read more about it

We invite you to check out the report, and welcome your feedback.

This report is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International (CCBY-SA 4.0) license.