>Dave Offen



>Martus Software ? Holding Human Rights Violators Accountable



>The most powerful weapon against rights abuse is the truth, accurately

>captured, safeguarded and quickly communicated to people who can use it

>to make a difference. Today, however, records of grassroots groups are

>too easily lost, confiscated or destroyed. Martus software meets this

>challenge by providing a very simple, searchable, encrypted and secure

>method of retaining and disseminating records of human rights abuse.


>Dave Offen is Director of Engineering at Benetech, a Palo Alto based

>non-profit venture that combines the impact of technological solutions

>with the social entrepreneurship business model to help disadvantaged

>communities in our society and across the world - Technology Serving

>Humanity. Dave will give a demonstration of the Martus application, and

>describe how the emerging discipline of Extreme Programming was used to

>develop this open source software.



Dave began his talk by explaining that the inspiration for Martus had been a group in Sri Lanka that had developed a large paper database about human rights violations which had been eaten by termites. There was also a case in Guatemala where a group had kept their information in Microsoft Word files, which were easily opened by anybody, making sensitive information available to the wrong people when the police confiscated the computer it was on.

Martus software is designed to make it easy to enter information for a human rights worker in the field, easy to upload to a server, and hard for prying eyes to get at confidential information contained in the documents. Each workers files are password protected so that only those with permission can look at them. In addition, public key encryption is used so that documents aren't uploaded in a way that somebody snooping on the telephone line can gain access to the contents. In addition to that, it was written in Java so there are versions that run on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems.

Dave demonstrated the software. Signing on was a simple matter of typing in user name and mousing or typing in the password. He explained that one of the ways spies can sniff the system is to intercept the keyboard cable, so mousing in the password makes the system more secure. After that, the user interface looked like an email program, with a document entry mode that had fields laid out like data entry program. Offen explained that there were ways to make part of the record public and the rest private. In his example, the public information was that Bob was assaulted by a calamari tentacle but his contact information was kept private. He assured us adding pictures or exhibits was a simple matter of a few clicks.

Dave then explained something about Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), the encryption technology that is used by the software. The central organization (for example Human Rights Watch) gives the field worker their public key, which is mathematically related to their private key. The field worker uses the public key to encode the private information he or she gathers, which can then be transmitted over a public information channel privately because it can only be decoded using the private key in the central office.

Martus is open source software, and it can be downloaded to anywhere except the seven countries that Americans are not allowed to export strong encryption software to. Despite the fact it has only been in the marketplace four months or so, there is already a long list of countries where it is being used, including Colombia, Guatemala, the Philippines, Russia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and the United States. Dave explained that Benetech Software had received grants from organizations like the MacArthur and Sorros foundations to send people all over the world to train human rights workers in how to use the product.

Tian Harter

For more information, please visit http://www.martus.org and/or http://www.benetech.org/ .