The problems

Global systems for exploiting natural resources are designed to make profit, not to protect the environment or respect the rights of local communities. Corruption and the lack of transparency and accountability in the extraction and development sectors has meant that for decades, the exploitation of natural resources and the development of polluting industries has been possible all over the planet at an alarming rate, resulting in displacements, pollution and conflicts. Indigenous and local communities are at the front-line of struggles to protect the communities and the environment in which they live.

Defenders are increasingly being criminalised, intimidated, harassed and, in some cases, even murdered for standing up to companies, corporations, extraction industries and governments who are exploiting natural resources, eroding land and customary rights and threatening local livelihoods. From Brazil to the Philippines, to the Standing Rock Reservation in the USA, companies and governments have used physical threats against defenders. Examples of physical threats include: Killings and attempted killings; Sexual assault and rape; Torture; and arbitrary detention and illegal arrest. More often than not, these attacks were preceded by targeted surveillance.

Most attacks are preceded by some forms of targeted surveillance (digital or not). Each context is different, and the attackers use different tactics, techniques, procedures, tools, exploits, pivoting methodologies, and goals. “Typical defences” may not fit, may even make no sense at all. Hence we propose an adaptation of “red teaming” campaigns, involving local people for building local detection and incident response teams, which will have enough connections to escalate incidences when necessary.

Digital security attacks on HRDs were widespread and their impact had numerous knock-on effects relating to the security of HRDs and movements more broadly. Social media attacks, trolling and hacking or blocking of social media accounts occurred in all regions, but their frequency was especially noticeable in Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Phone and email surveillance was conducted in numerous countries, and frequently targeted higher risk groups, including LGBTI+ defenders, WHRDs and environmental activists.