24 hours at Access Now: a tour through our everyday work

When people ask me what Access Now does, I tell them that we work 24/7 to protect the open internet, that our mission is to extend and defend the digital rights of users at risk, and that our vision is to ensure internet freedom for all. But what does that mean in the real world?

Well, here is a “typical” 24 hours at Access Now, using real details from our work, but taking liberties with the sequence of events to cover the breadth of our work in a single day. Enjoy the ride:

0:00 – Manila, Philippines (UTC + 8) –  JC, one of the security incident handlers for our Digital Security Helpline, is contacted by a journalist in Syria who suspects that his colleague, another journalist, has been kidnapped. JC starts a secure conversation and assesses the best way to provide support by taking the client through our response system. The journalist wants help shutting down his colleague’s social media account, so the kidnappers can’t get access and map out his social network. JC quickly verifies the facts, then reaches out to our partners, alerting them to the urgent request.

4:00 – New Delhi, India (UTC + 5) – It’s Monday, so our policy director Raman prepares for a meeting with the global Access Now policy team to set strategy for the coming week, with staff from Washington, D.C., Brussels, Kenya, and Costa Rica. Then he proceeds to India’s parliament, where he meets with legislators to discuss the human rights implications of a bill proposing collection of biometric identification. He also meets with lawyers at a local digital rights organization to talk about plans for launching a legal challenge to internet shutdowns that are taking place across the country.

6:00 – Nairobi, Kenya (UTC + 3) – Ephraim, our policy analyst for sub-Saharan Africa, reads through the draft text of Kenya’s 2016 draft ICT Policy and combs through proposed text for the 2016 Computer and Cybercrime Bill. He begins working with Raman and Donna, our strategic communications manager, to provide input in the government’s public consultation process. Later in the day, he reaches out to Ugandan partners and activists to discuss a lawsuit they have filed against the government for blocking social media during the February 2016 elections.

9:00 – Geneva, Switzerland (UTC + 2) – The U.N. Human Rights Council is debating a resolution that would reaffirm that human rights must be protected online just as they are offline, and that would specifically condemn internet shutdowns. Our global legal and policy counsel, Peter Micek, speaks before a group of 30 delegates — including representatives from Russia, China, Egypt, and the U.S. — encouraging them to adopt the resolution.

10:00 – Tunis, Tunisia (UTC + 1) – It’s been several hours, and our Digital Security Helpline is still working to help the same journalist in Syria who is worried that a fellow journalist’s social media account will be compromised. JC’s shift on the helpline in Manila is coming to an end, and he hands it over to Akrem, our security incident handler based in our Tunis office, who has been working with our partners and who succeeds in getting the account safely locked. His teammates Hassen and Mohamed are also busy consulting with him as they prepare to offer a digital security training to a local Tunisian human rights group.

11:00 – Brussels, Belgium (UTC + 2) – Brussels is the heart of European politics, and the European Commission has gathered stakeholders to discuss technology policy. Estelle, our European policy analyst, presents during a discussion on hate speech and free expression with our partners at European Digital Rights  (EDRi). Lucie, our European policy associate, is also attending a conference — Microsoft’s cybersecurity summit — where she’s discussing cybersecurity legislation with representatives from law enforcement, government, and academia. Back at the office, the Brussels team calls our RightsCon coordinator Nick Dagostino to finalize the dates for our tech and human rights conference RightsCon Brussels (the dates are now set! March 29-31, 2017).

12:00 – Cordoba, Argentina (UTC – 3) – The government of Brazil is asking for input on implementing the ground-breaking “Marco Civil” legislation, so our policy analyst for Latin America, Javier, files public comments in the rulemaking, laying out the argument for an interpretation that protects privacy and free expression. Unfortunately, a judge in Rio de Janeiro interprets the Marco Civil improperly and orders the messaging service WhatsApp blocked because the company has not turned over encrypted content sought in a criminal investigation. An estimated 100 million Brazilians suddenly lose access to the service, and Javier coordinates closely with Brazilian groups, to highlight how the judge has misapplied the law.

13:00 – San Jose, Costa Rica (UTC – 6) – Our Digital Security Helpline is evaluating a newly improved network measurement technology that could be useful for understanding how networks are blocked and throttled, especially during internet shutdowns. Gustaf, our chief technologist, is determining whether we should use it and potentially share it with our partners. Meanwhile, the Costa Rica team respond to more clients on the helpline before heading out to meet with officials at Latin America’s Internet Governance Forum.

14:00 – Washington, DC (UTC – 4) – Our Washington office is deeply involved with U.S. government policy around digital rights. Changes to Rule 41, a criminal procedural rule in the U.S., will allow the FBI to hack people’s computers all over the world, threatening our privacy globally. Our senior legislative analyst, Nathan, heads to Capitol Hill to speak with Congresspeople about drafting legislation to stop the changes from coming into force. U.S. Policy and Global Legal Counsel Amie Stepanovich then drafts a submission on the “Internet of Things” for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Working nearby, Rian from our Grants team consults with our independent advisory board in order to finalize a grant for a digital rights organization in sub-Saharan Africa.

17:00 – New York, NY (UTC – 4) – Our design lead Sage makes the finishing touches on shareable images to support a campaign to ensure strong Net Neutrality across the E.U. She sends them to our advocacy director, Josh, for sign off, before making them available to our global membership to urge them to submit comments to European regulators.

22:00 – Manila, Philippines (UTC + 8) – After a good night’s rest, JC, the security incident handler we started the day with, is awake and ready to begin his shift. He’s relieved to get confirmation that the social media accounts for the journalist in Syria who may have been kidnapped have been disabled. The journalist’s contacts are safe from exposure — for now.

The cycle will begin again

Each day presents unique challenges across all of our work. We don’t win every battle, and we keep pushing ahead, as a team and in collaboration with awesome partners around the world, to fight for digital rights — from government hacking to censorship, Net Neutrality, and stopping internet shutdowns. We don’t operate chronologically but we do move nimbly in real time. We are a distributed global network of committed experts defending and extending the digital rights of users, particularly those at risk.

If you’d like to help support our work at Access Now financially, you can donate here. If you’d like to stay updated on the global battle for digital rights — or get involved — we encourage you to “friend” us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter, the Access Now Express.