Every year, Access Now celebrates heroes of human rights in the digital age from around the world who have made a unique contribution to the fight against overreaching surveillance and defending privacy. We also shine a light on the villains who have played a notable role in undermining those rights.


Mohammed al-Maskati, Digital Security Trainer, Bahrain
Mohammed al-Maskati provides digital security advice and assistance to activists, journalists, and others throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Those who have worked with Al-Maskati credit him for not only keeping their information secure, but in several cases of actually saving lives through his interventions. In 2018, al-Maskati launched digital-protection.tech, a website to “provide advice on protecting individuals and organizations in the digital world and the Internet.”

Lizzie O’Shea, Lawyer, Australia
Lizzie O’Shea has led work to highlight, analyze, and protest expansive surveillance laws in Australia. Frequently working in coalition, O’Shea led the campaign against the Australian Government’s expansion of powers to break encryption protocols. This included building an alliance across technology companies, civil society organizations, academics, and activists, and fronting media, public events, and parliamentary inquiries. Despite the laws being passed, the campaign had a huge mobilizing impact, with a strong coalition committed to working together and thousands of Australian citizens sparked to take action.

Zaituni Njovu, Founder, Zaina Foundation, Tanzania
As the founder of the Zaina Foundation, Zaituni Njovu promotes digital security awareness for women and girls. Through the Foundation, Njovu works at “empowering girls and women in Technology through different skills in Technology.” She also works to translate security tools into Swahili to make them more accessible to non-English speakers, greatly expanding the reach of important resources for at-risk individuals.

Dr. Usha Ramanathan, Researcher & Activist, on behalf of Aadhaar Petitioners and Litigators, India
Dr. Usha Ramanathan is one of the leading critics of Aadhaar who has, since 2009, tirelessly challenged the controversial Aadhaar digital identity program in India, objecting to both the privacy and the security risks. In September 2018, the Supreme Court in India ruled Aadhaar could not be mandatory for several purposes, and it could not be required by private companies. Afterward, Dr. Ramanathan worked to explain the ramifications of the judgment and its disappointing limitations. She continues to speak out against the program. While we give our award to Dr. Ramanathan, we also want to recognize the entire community that has protested and litigated against Aadhaar.

Marianne Díaz Hernández, Lawyer & Researcher, Derechos Digitales, Venezuela
Marianne Díaz Hernández has been providing information and leading advocacy against invasive measures taken by the Maduro government in Venezuela. Her work has highlighted issues from data retention to censorship. As a native Venezuelan, her work has also been critical to provide proper local context for the activities of the government. In addition, in 2018, Díaz Hernández authored “El Cuerpo Como Dato,” an examination of the use of biometric technologies to track people in Latin America, calling for a broader conversation about what protections are necessary.


Announcement coming soon


We believe that human rights are universal — including on the internet. Technology has given us new and powerful ways to exercise our rights, but the internet can also be a battlefield where those rights are under threat. To defend our private spaces, a group of experts convened in 2013 and identified 13 principles governments must follow to ensure any electronic surveillance program fully respects human rights. They are known as the Necessary and Proportionate Principles.

In celebration of those principles and the work of people around the world to protect digital rights, every year Access Now names “heroes” and “villains” who have either protected the principles of freedom online or worked to undermine them.

Access Now’s team vets nominees and present them, along with our recommendations, to the Access Now board for final selection based on six criteria:

  • 1
    Impact in the fieldHow has the person’s work had a demonstrable impact on internet freedom and digital rights, either locally, regionally, or globally? (positively for the Heroes, or negatively for the Villains)
  • 2
    Embodiment of the PrinciplesHow have the 13 Principles of human rights and electronics surveillance played a part in that work?
  • 3
    Diverse representation —Do the awardees represent a diverse range of voices and regions?
  • 4
    Connection to users at riskHow has the person’s work impacted those most prone to marginalization?
  • 5
    Value to RightsCon Can we leverage the RightsCon event and community to empower and promote this person even further as a Hero, or to hold this person to account as a Villain?

Access Now is in the fifth year of its Annual Heroes and Villains awards. You can find out more about past years’ recipients the award’s evolution through the following pages:

2017 2016 2015 2014