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For Bloggers at Risk: Creating a Contingency Plan

In 2011, we have witnessed the incredible power of bloggers and social media users capturing the world’s attention through their activism. At the same time, regimes appear to be quickening the pace of their cat-and-mouse game with netizens, cracking down on speech through the use of surveillance, censorship, and the persecution and detention of bloggers. The increasingly the tech-savvy Syrian regime has been reported to demand login credentials from detainees, for example, while the use of torture in some of the region’s prisons continues. 

Aware of the threats to their safety, bloggers often devise contingency plans in the event they are detained. Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi was on her way to a conference in Jordan several weeks ago when she was arrested (she has since been released). In a premeditated effort to protect her contacts, she shared her passwords with trusted friends outside the country with instructions to change them in the event of an arrest. This way, she would not be able to give up the login credentials to her accounts since she would no longer know them. Other bloggers inform their close contacts of their wished contingency plans, determining in advance whether they would want a campaign for their release. A number of the bloggers arrested this year, in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere, have connections to international activist networks that have experience creating global campaigns and can easily contact government officials, companies, and human rights organizations.

Assessing individual risk is neither easy nor straightforward. Therefore, all bloggers–whether well-connected or just starting out–should consider creating a plan in the unfortunate event they are detained. That said, there are numerous resources bloggers can use to stay informed when other bloggers in their country are detained, harassed, or surveilled; when their government is monitoring phone conversations or Internet activity; and when detainees are being compelled to give up information, such as passwords, to authorities.

With that in mind, EFF together with Global Voices Advocacy have created a set of questions to consider. This list is by no means exhaustive, but should offer a starting point from which bloggers can develop their own contingency plans.

All bloggers should:

  • Consider providing someone outside the country with the following information:
    • Login credentials to your social media, email, and blog accounts
    • Contact information of family members
    • Information about any health conditions
  • Regularly back up their blog, Facebook, email, and other accounts
  • Consider mirroring your website if you want to ensure it remains up without your attention to it (Global Voices Advocacy offers instructions on mirroring a WordPress blog)
  • Encrypt sensitive files and consider hiding them on a separate drive
  • Consider using tools like Identity Sweeper (for Android users) to secure/erase your mobile data
  • Consider preparing a statement for release in case of arrest– This can be helpful for international news outlets and human rights organizations
  • Consider recording a short video identifying yourself (biographical info, scope of work) and the risks that you face and share with trusted contacts
  • Develop contacts with human rights and free expression organizations*
  • Think about a strategy/contingency plan for what to do if you're detained (see below)

If you are arrested or detained:

  • Is there a trusted person(s) that you would like to authorize to make major decisions on your behalf–such as whether to conduct a public campaign? If yes, please make sure to discuss your preferences with that person. The following are among the topics you could talk about:
    • What are your preferences for public campaigns? Is there a particular message that you feel strongly represents you and your views?
    • What are the organizations you feel closest to in terms of potentially leading campaigns for your release and/or better treatment?
    • Are there any particular attorney(s) who you know and would like to solicit for your case?
    • Do you have a preference about what to do about your accounts? (i.e. Change the passwords, turn them into campaign accounts or shut them down) Do you trust someone else to make crucial decisions about your accounts if your situation changes?
    • Is there any specific information about you or relevant to your case that you prefer not be made public?
    • Do you have acute or chronic illnesses which require medication or treatment? If yes, what are they? (Asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, etc.)
    • Are there family members that one can contact to sign off on important decisions or speak to the media? If yes, who? Are there family members who you absolutely do not want to speak on your behalf?

When having these conversations, keep in mind that it may be hard for you to foresee every future development. The best course of action may be to have in-depth conversations with trusted friends and family members so that they clearly understand your preferences–and then authorize them to make decisions as they best see fit under evolving conditions. In other words, “delegate with guidance” so that your trusted relations can look out for your best interests and your wishes under evolving circumstances.

*There are numerous organizations out there and we could not possibly name them all.  EFF and Global Voices Advocacy are great starts, but we also recommend international organizations Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, FrontLine Defenders, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Access.  If you need assistance finding a local organization in your country, please contact us and we will try to help.

This post was co-authored by EFF and Global Voices Advocacy, with special thanks to Zeynep Tufekci.

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