Project Cockatoo: Source Secure mobile witness broadcasting

Project Cockatoo source secure mobile broadcasting and communication technologies for journalists and activists operating in repressive contexts

Project Cockatoo brings together people who want to create source secure mobile broadcasting and communication technologies for activists operating in repressive contexts.
The problem

Activists are unable to communicate or broadcast information securely. Four examples:

  • A human rights worker in Zimbabwe is arrested and jailed for receiving a sms critical of the president.
  • An activist is Iran is tracked down and disappeared for sending sms messages urging people to rise up against Ahmadinejad and clerical regime in Iran.
  • Pro-democracy organisers in Minsk, Belarus are unable to communicate securely.
  • In West Papua all international media are banned. Tens of thousands of people are in the street and occupy parliament. Protest organisers on the ground are unable to upload video and photographs in real time, thereby missing mainstream media cycles.

The vision

Citizen journalists and activists working for social change in repressive contexts are able to communicate with one another and broadcast information safely and securely.
We want to avoid the Twitter dilemma: the use of Deep Packet Inspection technology to track and trace strident “tweeters”. This was first reported internationally in the first days of the disputed Iranian elections. International Human Rights organisations have since noted that a number of those arrested, disappeared and executed in the aftermath of the first Green Movement uprisings were by found by tracing the IP addresses of the users.

Why is this project important?

Civil resistance – sustained collective nonviolent action for democracy, equal rights and selfdetermination in contexts where there are stark power asymmetries between the powerholders and those working for change – increasingly depends on the skilful use of the media. Activists need to communicate not only injustices and human rights violations but also acts of nonviolent resistance networks that can be mobilised on behalf of those who are oppressed. This includes both domestic and international supporters and third parties. The need is particularly urgent in repressive contexts. In places as diverse as Belarus, Burma, Iran, North Korea, Palestine, Tibet, Western Sahara, West Papua and Zimbabwe the means of communication is closely monitored, political space restricted,  and the activities of journalists and transnational actors seeking to report on and promote freedom struggles hampered. The capability to communicate and broadcast safely and securely is also needed by whistleblowers, human rights defenders, environmental activists, and anti-corruption campaigners working to expand the contours of freedom.

How did this project emerge?

The idea for this project grew out of a need in the West Papua context. Journalists are banned, the territory is isolated internationally, and civilian based dissent is repressed.  It quickly became apparent, however, that a suite of software to support mobile broadcasting and communication will be useful in a range of repressive contexts.

What are the stages of the project?
1. Develop a business and fundraising plan.

2. Hold a workshop to bring activists from a range of different social and political contexts together with civil resistance and social change media researchers to assess the needs and challenges of activists in repressive. What is their experience and what is required to communicate and broadcast information safely?
3. Develop an easily deployable cross-platform mobile software suite to enable real time human rights reporting, security analysis, secure communication, and secure media broadcasting of civilian based action with minimal training required for effective mass deployment. Intially this software suite could be contained on a USB that could be trialled on laptops. The software suite would be designed to ensure that a person’s source is always  kept  safe .
4. Software development and field testing for mobile phones.

5. Training in citizen journalism and the use of the software for activists in repressive contexts.
What is needed to make this project happen?

1. Coordination with key allies and partners from the following constituencies: activists, media outlets and journalists, NGOs (particularly those working in conflict, human rights and disaster management), scholars and researchers, and funders.
2. Commitment from donors

3. Operating costs
What kind of tools do we want the suite to include?

Activists need an easy to use  single application that has the following capabilities:
 Video, audio, and text upload;

 Basic video and image editing;

 Audio editing and podcast production;

 Automatic metadata stripper;

 SAFE geotagging of violation evidence, not connected to originating device;

 CryptoSMS or TextSecure module;

 Incorporation of human security monitoring methodology.

 Controlled vocabulary for abuse/violation data;

 Ability to configure field/ headquarters accounts with sealed, public, private, restricted,
or even sensitive classifications (critical for collaborative work to correct errors before public release, and to protect victim/subject identity data);
 Secure online collaboration/filesharing tools – i.e Dropbox

 Utilising psiphon or tor based anonymity and firewall avoidance technology.

 Unique session based identity verification that cannot be compromised, and is
scrubbed at session completion;

 4096 bit public key encryption minimum;

 Open Source, easily installable and intuitive for people with limited tech literacy;

 Network settings aware: must be able to optimise transmission methods, bandwidth
and data;

 Able to be securely backed up and installed on new/old/multiple phones in case of

 Multiple language platform with real time automated translation capability;

 Voice recognition and automatic voice transcription (allowing for regional accents);

 Complementary secure cross-platform support software suites to be developed for computers.

The keyword is safety for the user and uploader. Data could be stored remotely meaning that no evidence is left on phone, allowing total deniability if it falls in the wrong hands.*

(*Theoretically the technology exists to make this possible although it will require investment in research and development. However, there are still a number of questions to be answered: How to balance identity protection with source verifiability/ factuality trust? There is a need to triangulate data. Does
transmission content need to be protected with steganography? Can it be?)

What else is being done around the world to support secure mobile communication and broadcasting?

There are many different tools available for different technologies. Two examples include:
The Guardian Project : Almost perfect formulation, there exists only one key criticism from this project’s point of view. Getting access to new Android based phones could be a problem in certain environments. Whilst certainly the way forward, grassroots local human rights workers are unlikely to be able to afford significant uptake of brand new handsets when they have a hundred old Nokia’s lying around. We need to work with what currently exists on the ground.
Human Rights Watch BUG4Good project: Once again a fantastic tech solution for ensuring communication behind lines. The basic idea is to have a fully sealed, fully encrypted unit for sending and sharing audio video and other human rights relevant data across any mobile network. However, as this is a specialist piece of hardware, it totally removes any chance of deniability if arrested or captured. Once intelligence organisations are aware of what the tech looks like, they generally make sure all their agents do.
This project is about increasing the efficacy of the activist toolkit. We do not wish to reinvent the wheel. Instead we would like to build on and incorporate a range of existing innovative movement security, broadcasting and communication tools in a single application.
Who is behind Project Cockatoo?

Project Cockatoo brings together many highly experienced people involved in human rights, media development, and civil resistance education and training in West Papua, Indonesia and elsewhere. We are all united by the need to further develop indigenous citizen and professional media capacity as a significant step toward a powerful civil society and nonviolent movement for self-determination.
We want to connect and collaborate with people, organisations and networks around the world working towards developing source secure mobile broadcasting and communication technologies, and those training activists in repressive contexts in all aspects of campaign communications.
For more information contact project coordinator Nick Chesterfield at e: and mobile/cell: +614050079106.

Or Jason MacLeod at e: and mobile/cell: +61402746002.


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