Hivos International

Internet Freedom


Freedom of expression and the media is a basic requirement for citizens to stay informed, express an opinion and become civically involved in society. Today, safequarding this freedom necessarily involves consolidating Internet Freedom. Hivos strives towards improvements in three key areas: Prevention & Protection; Policy & Privacy; and Pressure. Read more.

Internet freedom is under threat
Repressive regimes and their security services have seen the great power of the internet to bring about change. And they are trying to control online activity. Bloggers are traced, intimidated, arrested. Websites and networks are blocked, e-mail accounts are hacked and computers infected with spyware. But there are smart ways to counter this brutal repression and control. Check out our recommended list of Security Tools for 2015, and stay safe online!


Internet freedom is not a given; human rights offline are not always translated to the online environment. In many countries, human rights defenders, (citizen) journalists and ordinary citizens are arrested regularly for their actions online. In order to harness ICT’s exciting potential, Hivos strives towards consolidating and safequarding Internet Freedom through improvements in three key areas:

  • Prevention& Protection (digital safety and security for activists)
  • Policy & Privacy (internet governance policy and privacy protection)
  • Pressure (against online human rights abuses)

These areas are of course not always neatly separated, and some of our activities focus on more than one.

Prevention & Protection
Many of our partnerships and activities are geared toward raising activists’ awareness of and skills in preventing and dealing with (online) security threats so they can enjoy full freedom of expression online safely. Hivos calls this “smart activism”. It aims to enhance secure communication by conducting research, offering training and encouraging peer-to-peer learning. A prime example is Hivos’ support to the Arab Bloggers Conference, where (online) activists from all over the MENA region come together to discuss and exchange digital tactics and strategies to realise democratic changes. Indeed, Hivos partners consistently express the need to protect bloggers, activists and human rights defenders who operate under constant threat and attack in several countries. Prevention and protection intertwine in Hivos activities – like Tactical Tech - that offer both technical and practical support to activists.

Policy & Privacy
In transitional and developing environments, pressure and participation are very much interlinked, and Hivos feels it is crucial that civil society join discussions between governments and the private sector on the long-term future of Internet Freedom. Hivos and its partners lobby for proper and inclusive internet governance regulation, and support “Internet Governance roundtables” to assist in this effort. Our partners set out cutting edge proposals for internet governance worldwide and offer country-specific action plans for improvement. Furthermore, preserving citizens’ privacy, and protecting them from government and private sector intrusion, is of increasing importance. To this end, Hivos supports research into the technology ecosystem(and subsequent lobbying).

Hivos believes it is essential to put (inter)national pressure on regimes that abuse human rights online. Some Hivos partners try to garner international attention for individual cases, like the network behind Mid East Youth, while other others, like Threatened Voices, offer an insight into the prevalence of blogger and activist persecution by tracking and documenting the suppression of online free speech.

Through its pioneering initiatives to employ ICT technologies to create and further promote, safeguard and anchor freedom of expression, freedom of information and internet freedom into legislation and societies worldwide, Hivos has garnered (financial) support from a wide array of organisations, institutions and foundations, such as the Dutch Foreign Ministry.


In many countries, Internet Freedom is not enshrined in law and can come under threat from governmental legal and political action. By simply exercising their right to free speech, bloggers, activists and human rights defenders often face arrest, torture, imprisonment, and sometimes even the death penalty.

Hivos believes that independent media and cultural freedom are basic requirements for citizens to keep informed, express an opinion, get involved civically and, in so doing, develop a sense of shared responsibility for society. This is why Internet Freedom, together with Transparency & Accountability and Alternative and Independent Media, is a key focal area of our Open Society programme.

Online freedom and the safety of its guardians are crucial both in combating repression, as well as in closely monitoring the various phases of transitional democracies. With a strategy focusing on prevention, protection, pressure and participation, Hivos seeks to support Internet users, bloggers and cyber-activists in authoritarian and transitional environments effectively and sustainably.

ICT & (new) media are used as tools for communication, citizen engagement and social change. These tools can construct the desired critical dialogue between government and politics on the one hand, and individual and organised citizens on the other. So stimulating the use of ICT and media in development has been a Hivos policy priority for more than a decade now, and our partners can rely on Hivos’ many years of experience and pioneering role in the field of culture, ICT and (new) media.

Facts & Figures


Expression: 10% annual increase of unique visitors to relevant websites
Partners: 62
Countries: 16
Major donors: Dutch Foreign Ministry, Omidyar Network, Hewlett Foundation, CIDA, SIDA, SNV, World Bank

  • Support fund provides active protection to citizen activists, journalists and bloggers.
  • Activists whose work or country puts them at risk have access to and knowledge about tools for smart activism.
  • The Internet Governance Programme pushed for an Internet policy agenda in the MENA region, engaged in the regional and global policy dialogues and held IG training courses for stakeholders.
Security Tools for 2015

2015 is becoming a year where issues like surveillance, censorship, freedom of speech and privacy are becoming important topics in daily life. Whether you are a journalist or a critical internet user, below are the 8 tools you should use in order to protect yourself online:

#1. Tor: a programme for serving Tor and related files over SMTP. Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. It also enables software developers to create new communication tools with built-in privacy features. Tor provides the foundation for a range of applications that allow organisations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy.

#2: OpenWhisperSystems: offers different open source mobile applications for secure communication. The apps offer end-to-end encryption over the air and on your phone, securing your conversations and texts.

#3: PGP (Pretty Good Privacy): a data encryption and decryption tool that provides privacy and authentication for data communication such as texts, e-mails and files sent by e-mail. By using PGP, you can protect your email communications from being read by anyone except their intended recipients. It can protect against companies, governments, or criminals spying on your Internet connection, and, to a lesser extent, it can save your email from being read if the computer on which they are stored is stolen or broken into.

#4: Jitsi: a cross-platform, free and open-source program which supports Instant Messaging (IM), voice and video chat over the Internet. It supports many of the most popular and widely used IM and telephony protocols. It offers additional independent encryption for text chats through the OTR (Off-the-Record) protocol, and voice and video sessions. Jitsi runs on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS and Linux. The Android version is forthcoming.

#5: Avast! Anti-virus: a free, full-featured anti-virus program that detects and removes malware and viruses from a home or personal computer.

#6: Riseup: a secure e-mail client for people and groups working on liberatory social change that provides a relatively safe means of e-mail communication. It is a project to create democratic alternatives and practise self-determination by controlling its own secure means of communications. 

#7: Tails: a live operating system that can be started on almost any computer from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card. Tails provides a platform to solve many surveillance problems by "doing the right thing" out of the box by default, protecting even less tech-savvy users from the most likely and highest impact risks. Journalists can use Tails to write articles, books and create movies. Journalists use Tails to chat off-the-record, browse the web anonymously and share sensitive documents. Many human rights defenders and journalists overseas depend on Tails to do their daily work, if not simply to stay alive.

#8: VPN. encrypts and sends all Internet data between your computer and another computer. This computer could belong to a commercial or nonprofit VPN service, your company, or a trusted contact. Once a VPN service is correctly configured, you can use it to access webpages, e-mail, instant messaging, and any other Internet service. A VPN protects your traffic from being intercepted locally, but your VPN provider can keep logs of your traffic (websites you access, and when you access them) or even provide a third party with the ability to snoop directly on your web browsing. Disclaimer: not all VPNs are evenly secure, and it is advised to only use a VPN which you trust!

For more tips, guidelines and self-diagnostic tools to remain digitally secure, check our Digital First Aid Kit: