BASICS Report on Open Source Digital Safety Tool Ecosystem

Internews’ BASICS project (Building Analytical and Support Infrastructure for Critical Security tools) was a 30-month initiative to strengthen the capacity of open source digital safety tool development teams (“tool teams”) to better understand their vulnerable users, respond to urgent security and privacy threats, and evaluate their impact. BASICS set out to address the unique challenges faced by tool teams in order to improve the protection of the users of these tools. Vulnerable populations, such as human rights defenders and marginalized groups, count on independently-developed open source digital safety tools not only to provide safety and censorship circumvention, but also to avoid reliance on cloud-based services which can be censored or hacked, and to protect themselves from costly licensing issues when using commercial tools. Many of the most popular and most critical open source digital security tools are maintained and updated by “tool teams” rather than businesses or organizations. These ad-hoc groups have little if any institutional capacity, are often under-resourced, and have limited insight into the specific needs of at-risk users.

BASICS improved both new and proven open source digital safety technologies through an innovative incubation and mentoring approach leveraging Global South expertise: participating tool teams underwent a lightweight needs assessment process, co-created capacity action plans with the project team, and subsequently were connected with skilled individuals from targeted and vulnerable populations to address their identified priority needs.

We are pleased to share with the community a report on the health of the open source digital safety tool ecosystem that draws from the BASICS experience. We hope the insights and trends in the report will help to guide others in the Internet Freedom space who are interested in supporting open source digital safety tools.