One of the Human Rights Foundation’s goals is to leverage the tech community in the movement to advance human rights. Much as scientists played a key role in the collapse of the Soviet Union, technologists can play a key role in bringing down authoritarian regimes today. We know that once tyrants lose their control over information, they begin to lose their grip on power.
In 2014, HRF organized the world’s first ever hackathon for North Korea with the goal of sending information into closed societies. Since then partnerships have multiplied between Silicon Valley companies and human rights groups in HRF’s network. HRF also organized the world’s first tech lab for dissidents at the Oslo Freedom Forum, and it continues to be a key feature of the annual event.
One area where HRF has made the greatest impact is through technical training. HRF attends conferences such as DEF CON, Mozilla Festival, SXSW, and WIRED to grow its network of cyber security and information technology experts who provide pro bono services for dissidents around the world.
HRF has worked with AnchorFree, Google Ideas, Silent Circle, Twitter, Wickr, Wikimedia, Yahoo! and YouTube, in order to identify ways in which to support dissidents at risk. HRF also presented this work at Europe’s largest technology conference, DLD, and at the European Parliament, the U.S. Congress, MIT, Stanford, and the United Nations.
Flash Drives for Freedom
It is HRF’s belief that information and education (rather than diplomacy or military action) are the keys to change inside North Korea. Once enough of the population learns about the outside world, the Kim regime will no longer be able to survive. That’s why HRF created the Flash Drives for Freedom campaign. HRF is collecting flash drives to donate to local partners in South Korea that are helping guide the flow of information into, and out of, the hermit kingdom.
Since launching the campaign in February 2016, HRF has collected more than 25,000 flash drives. HRF sends batches of 500 or 1,000 at a time to various defector-led organizations in South Korea, who then load them with information and send them into North Korea. HRF’s goal is to increase the number of flash drives that get sent into North Korea and get more outside information into the country.
Beyond impact in North Korea, the Flash Drives for Freedom initiative serves another, equally important purpose - educating people in the United States and elsewhere about the situation inside North Korea, and encouraging them to consider how they can help people inside North Korea. To learn more about this initiative, visit: FlashDrivesforFreedom.org
Tech Task Force
It is more important than ever for activists and journalists to know how to protect themselves from hacking and spying, as authoritarian regimes increasingly use these means to clamp down on dissent. HRF aims to ensure that activists are as safe as possible. To this end, HRF’s tech task force partners pro bono tech consultants and hackers who wish to donate their time and skills with activists who need help protecting themselves and their work.
As governments develop new systems of oppression that increasingly rely on technology, the Human Rights Foundation is partnering with tech experts and hackers to strengthen civil society organizations around the world.
- Do you have tech skills and knowledge?
- Are you interested in participating in an upcoming hackathon?
- Do you have software or other resources you can donate?
- Do you have extra flash drives or other hardware you no longer need?
- Is your company interested in supporting human rights?
We are seeking volunteers who want to donate their time, tech skills, and/or resources to undermine authoritarian regimes and help activists on the frontlines of advancing democracy.
If you would like to learn more about or join HRF’s tech task force, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2014, Human Rights Foundation (HRF) hosted Hack North Korea, a gathering of Bay Area technologists, investors, engineers, designers, activists and North Korean defectors that aimed to spark new ideas for getting information into the world's most closed and isolated society.
Prominent North Korean defectors and refugees Park Sang Hak, Park Yeonmi, and Kim Heung Kwang traveled from Seoul to San Francisco to educate Hack North Korea participants about how information is currently brought into the tightly controlled closed regime—whether via leaflets dropped by helium-nitrogen balloons, on USB drives and DVDs, or by shortwave radio. The participants built on this existing knowledge and brainstormed new and innovative ways of getting information past the North Korean regime’s information blockade. After presentations, a panel of expert judges selected the winning idea: a plan to use small, easily concealable satellite dishes to pick up feeds full out of outside information from China and South Korea.
The hackathon is part of HRF’s ongoing Disrupt North Korea project and is another step in building a bridge between the defector and Silicon Valley communities, allowing more information than ever to reach the North Korean people.Read more about Hack North Korea in The Guardian, and PBS. Learn more about HRF’s Disrupt North Korea project at Motherboard, The Atlantic, and the Mercury News.