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Preserving the Past, Protecting the Future: The Vital Role of Encryption in Media Preservation

Human rights archivists rely on encryption to protect at-risk communities, safeguard sensitive media, maintain data integrity, control access, and facilitate secure storage and transfer

In today's digital age, smartphones are a powerful tool for capturing and preserving daily life events. They are especially valuable for journalists, human rights defenders, or eyewitnesses seeking to bring justice and awareness to the human rights violations they are documenting.

While this media is incredibly valuable, it is just as fragile. Both the media and those capturing it are subject to targeting, surveillance, data breaches, theft, or accidental loss. Encryption mitigates many of these safety and privacy threats, thus allowing for the access and long-term preservation of this critical media without interference.

So what is encryption exactly? “Encryption is a way of scrambling data so that only authorized parties can understand the information. In technical terms, it is the process of converting human-readable plaintext to incomprehensible text, also known as ciphertext.” For more information about what encryption is and why it’s important, check out this article by the EFF. “What Should I Know About Encryption?”

At OpenArchive, we collaborate with Decentralized Archivist Communities (DACs) worldwide who rely on encryption to protect themselves and their sensitive communications. We equip them with responsive tools like the Save app to enhance their privacy and improve their preservation efforts. This app enables users to share, archive, verify, and, aptly, encrypt their media in-transit.

To commemorate Global Encryption Day, here are three key ways encryption protects our decentralized archivist communities and their media:

1. Protecting Media:

KHPG, our DAC partner in Ukraine, reports that they previously received evidence from multiple unencrypted sources. When using Save, their media is protected in-transit by Transport Layer Security (TLS). TLS encrypts data transmitted over the Internet and protects media as it is sent from phone to server.

Additionally, Save uses the Tor network via Orbot, free open source software that protects media in-transit by using Tor to help mitigate network surveillance and other threats to your privacy. It does so by encrypting your IP address and browsing history, and routing your internet traffic through randomly-chosen relay servers.

2. Managing Access:

In recent years, authorities in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region (KRI) have increasingly targeted mobile media – censoring and destroying evidence collected during protests and disproportionately arresting witnesses that collected evidentiary photos and video footage.

Encryption functions as a digital lock, allowing users to control who can access and decrypt their media. This prevents bad actors from accessing media even if they are able to intercept the communications. With Save, in addition to in-transit media encryption, users can choose to send media to a server with multiple layers of encryption such as Nextcloud or Owncloud servers.

3. Preserving Evidence:

In Ecuador, human rights defenders documenting violations of Indigenous people’s rights face a myriad of physical and digital threats that put them and their evidentiary media at risk.

Encryption helps to secure media archives, which protects them from bad-actors over the long term.

Save benefits your media archives by offering additional protection against unauthorized access and the ability to easily store multiple copies of your media on different secure servers.

At OpenArchive, we prioritize encryption in our tool Save because it helps protect sensitive media and its sources, manage data access, and protects evidence for long term preservation. Whether in Ukraine, Iraq, Ecuador, or anywhere injustice persists, encryption is crucial for preserving truth to power.

If you are actively documenting global injustices and human rights violations, learn more about OpenArchive’s Save app and how to join as a Decentralized Archivist Community partner.