Caitlin Howarth

human security + tech + politics

Organizer, writer, analyst and politics/policy pro. I work on the human rights, security and tech that empowers progressive change around the world.

Safeguarding Democracy: Innovations in Technology and Human Rights

On 9 June 2012, I was lucky enough to moderate a panel of four amazing women at the Netroots Nation conference for a panel on human rights, tech, and security. Activists now have access to unlikely tools: satellite technology to deter mass atrocities in South Sudan, civil society leaders in Iran and Southeast Asia distributing encrypted media of demonstrations and geo-targeted apps that aid famine relief in East Africa and combat global human trafficking. Technology has transformed the way governments, corporations and movements around the world are held accountable, and it shapes how the world watches history unfold. With these advancements come increased scrutiny, privacy concerns and a battle for access to the new technology. How we continue to innovate and anticipate challenges will steer the future of human rights. This panel discussed the power dynamics between movements and governments using technology as an accountability tool in global human rights, cases from the frontlines in humanitarian technology and why we need to create progressive policies that support innovation in human rights.

Watch live streaming video from fstv2 at

Not only did we rock an all-women panel at a tech conference - hey, it was noteworthy at the time - this group delivered great advice, practical guidance for organizers and advocates headed into crisis zones, and big vision for the future of tech and human rights. 

Who are these women? Glad you asked:

  • Matisse Bustos Hawkes provides creative and strategic leadership on digital communications as Communications Manager at WITNESS, and was recently named one of Foreign Policy's 2012 Top 100 women to follow on Twitter.
  • Sabrina Hersi Issa is the Digital Director of Be Bold Media, founder of the Human Rights Roundtable, and co-founder of, a community dedicated to seeking sustainable solutions to global hunger launched in response to famine in the Horn of Africa.
  • Emily Jacobi is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Digital Democracy, a New York-based nonprofit working globally to empower marginalized communities to harness technology to fight for their human rights.
  • Lauren Wolfe is the Director of Women Under Siege, a project on sexualized violence in conflict, an award-winning journalist and former senior editor of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Lucky for us, we had great guys in the audience, too - including Matt Stempeck of the MIT Center for Civic Media. Matt's liveblog of the panel is a great way to quickly skim the play-by-play.

Some of the best hands-on advice came in the Q&A about mobile security:

  1. You are the least secure thing about your technology. Your phone can be Fort Knox, but if you leave it somewhere, it doesn't matter.
  2. iPhone batteries can't be removed, and if your battery's still in your phone, you're being tracked.
  3. We can put ourselves and others at risk simply by having information. Assessing who needs to know what can prevent a situation from arising to begin with.

Dome of Sultanahmet, Istanbul