Online civic space is under attack, and Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline is a lifeline that crosses time zones and languages to support at-risk groups and individuals from civil society. The 24/7 computer security incident response team has now assisted on more than 10,000 cases affecting activists, journalists, and non-profit organisations — and with the caseload growing, this resource is more critical than ever.
Strengthening civil society’s defenses: what Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline has learned from its first 10,000 cases dives deep into the stories that led to this milestone, probing key trends and findings, exploring case studies, and unpacking data from across the globe.
“From online harassment to sophisticated malware, civil society continues to be targeted by the very entities who are obliged to protect it,” said Michael Carbone, Digital Security Helpline Deputy Director at Access Now. “We are only as safe as the most vulnerable online — and offline. Civil society must work in solidarity to protect ourselves and our communities, and ultimately ensure our human rights.”
Key findings from over 10,000 cases include:
- Digital attacks are shrinking civic space: In 2020, the Digital Security Helpline handled more urgent incidents than ever before.
- Civil society is severely under-resourced and under capacity: There is a pressing need for civil society to strengthen baseline security practices, especially as it is often targeted by extremely well-resourced adversaries.
- A strong, well-resourced, diverse, trust-based ecosystem of support is the only way to protect vulnerable people online: Almost half of all cases have been referrals from trusted networks and partners.
- The ecosystem of support for civil society must keep growing: Publicly sharing documentation and workflows supports the work of other help desks, and catalyses feedback to improve resources together.
- Individually tailoring support ensures the most sustained positive impact: Each person who reaches out to the Digital Security Helpline works in an environment with unique risks, threats, and needs.
- Diversity makes the community stronger: A diverse, multifaceted, multicultural Digital Security Helpline team is key to providing effective assistance.
- Investing in self-care makes the work more sustainable: Dedicated organisational resources support the Digital Security Helpline team’s well-being, and protects against burn-out.
“Ten thousand Digital Security Helpline cases is ten thousand individual stories, often involving someone risking their life to defend their human rights or those of others,” said Beatrice Martini, Digital Security Helpline Education and Communities Lead at Access Now. “Rather than celebrating this milestone, let’s reflect on the threats faced by civil society around the world, and work to strengthen our support to at-risk individuals and groups, as part of — and in collaboration with — the international rapid response community.”
Access Now and the Digital Security Helpline will continue efforts together with global partners to ensure civil society and the users most at risk can freely and safely exercise their human rights, online and off. Find out more about the Digital Security Helpline and the resources available.
The full report is available on the left.