New Report: Threats faced by earth defenders and their data, and implications for tech development

Aliya Ryan
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June 6, 2023

Every day, those on the frontlines risk their lives to defend their people’s land. Today, Digital Democracy released a report, based on research carried out since 2020, documenting threats faced by earth defenders around the world as they collect evidence of environmental and human rights abuses, with a focus on threats to data and digital security. 

Read the report:

Drawing from conversations with 26 interviewees, our research uncovers the breadth of threats that earth defenders face: from stalking, digital tracking, legislative harassment and false incarceration, to device theft, verbal & physical abuse and in the worst cases violence and assassinations.

This week marks one year since the tragic murder of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips in the Brazilian Amazon. At the time of his death Bruno was working with our team to customize Mapeo for local use to support the investigation of illegal fishing practices on Indigenous lands. His death is testament to the price those on the frontlines pay far too often to defend their lands and ensure their voices are heard. In 2022 Global Witness reported that an environmental activist is killed, internationally, on average every two days.  

Join us next Wednesday, June 14 at a LinkedIn Live event to discuss the report and its main conclusions. I will be joined by members of the Digital Democracy tech team and Arky, an open source technologist who works with social impact projects in Southeast Asia. The event will be at 4pm BST, 11am ET. Please join us.

The report highlights the reality of physical threats, and the need for technologists to look beyond digital security, at protocols that work with the technology to mitigate risk. It also emphasizes the importance of balancing security measures with ease-of-use; the differing and occasionally contradictory needs that users have, and how these translate into challenges faced by designers of locally-led technology attempting to keep data and users secure. 

“The report’s findings will inform our development team, so that they can incorporate effective security measures to the tools and produce guidelines and protocols for use” said Gregor MacLennan, Technical Director at Digital Democracy

The research was carried out with support from Open Technology Fund, and is focused on understanding the threats faced by earth defenders in order to better meet these needs within Dd’s flagship Mapeo platform, used by Indigenous and other earth defenders across the world to map their lands and monitor environmental rights abuses. 

“There is no one set of solutions that can resolve all the needs of earth defenders. Clarifying which needs are the priorities of the communities is critical when designing for the most vulnerable technology users,” said Jen Castro, Co-Director, Digital Democracy.

Help us spread the word - download the report, share it on social media, and download and share our press release.

If you have any comments or further feedback on the questions raised by the report based on your experiences, please get in touch, we would love to hear from you. Email us at and you can also find us on Discord!

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Aliya Ryan
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