Klingner discusses Martus, a free and open source software program

Jeff Klingner, computer science consultant at Benetech, delivered Dec. 8 Liberation Technology Seminar on the topic of collecting, protecting, and analyzing human rights data. Klingner discussed Martus, a free and open source software program created by his team at Benetech. Martus, the Greek word for “Witness” is a secure database that is used to document human rights violations. 

The software was built on the premise that information is a critical asset in human rights work, but such information is liable to various forms of threats. Careful documentation of information has been destroyed by termites, volcanic eruptions and other forms of natural hazards. Digitized data is liable to be stolen by those who seek to abuse such information, and so Martus has extended security features including backups, encryption, secure communication and even a panic button to erase data quickly.

To protect documentation of activists, Martus has a database that is easy to use and has safety features including encryption, version management backup and also the ability to share information with those who are authorized. Information can also be made public, which can then be discovered by others using the Martus search engine.

The talk explored various issues that human rights workers working on sensitive issues may face, and the efforts that were taken by the Benetech team to provide the greatest possible security to sensitive information. Klingner also discussed the organizational innovations that Benetech had to make to build a wider engagement with the coder community in order to build software for public purpose through initiatives such as socialcoding4good.