Project Details

Martus shown on a mobile phone


Keeping sensitive information and the people who are collecting it safe

By Beneficent Technology, Inc.

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @martusproject

Organisation URL:
Organisation Twitter: @Benetech

  • Social Exclusion
  • Data
  • Open Source

If you are working to achieve change within a repressive regime, documenting human rights abuses is crucial.  Activists will use the best tools at their disposal, and the computer, mobile phone, internet and the web represent an extremely powerful combination. Sadly, they also bring with them a set of vulnerabilities which make using them in such critical circumstances a risky business.  Data may be lost to human error, a virus or theft, undermining carefully planned campaigns, or may fall into the wrong hands, putting the victims of abuse in further danger.

Enter Martus: free, open source, secure database software designed specifically for (and in collaboration with) human rights activists.  Launched in 2003 by Benetech (the organisation behind 2013 NT100 winner Bookshare), Martus is a tool for keeping sensitive information - and the people who are collecting it - as safe as possible.  Powerful encryption locks out prying eyes, while automated back-up services ensure data can be retrieved should local systems fail: indexing and search functions also allow users to access, organise and share this information securely.

With organisations like Freedom House, working in Mexico to support victims of torture and defend the rights of indigenous people, the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission and Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies and the Philippine Commission on Human Rights using its software, it is clearly making a difference in a range of challenging contexts.

In the case of the HRC in Sri Lanka, Martus enabled them to move from collecting highly sensitive information via faxes, mail and meetings, to having all of their regional offices updating a shared, secure database directly. For EQUITAS,  a Colombian NGO, the software ensured that information about that country's many 'disappeared' wasn't compromised when one of their laptops was stolen.

"Martus is inspiring because it offers a safe and easy way for activists to do their work," said Lucy Bernholz of Stanford University. "As infrastructure, Martus may not be sexy, but it is lifesaving."

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Last updated: 29th of October, 2014

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