Project Update: Tahoe-LAFS for Human Rights Defenders

This summer, Least Authority has been wrapping up our project funded by the Open Technology Fund (OTF) to make Tahoe-LAFS a more usable tool for human rights organizations. (Read about the background on this project in our earlier post.)

While secure file storage is a necessity for most everyone, human rights defenders have a more essential need to keep their files safe from surveillance, because their threat modeling often involves serious risks, such as forced shut-down, harassment, imprisonment, and torture. This project is aimed at helping human rights organizations with their particular needs for sharing and storing data safely and securely. Providing such organizations access to this type of technology enables them to share data via channels that are free from restrictions and surveillance.

Through user testing and human-centered design, we have been working to improve the open source tools Tahoe-LAFS and Gridsync for anyone to use freely. As part of our project, we have been consulting with four human rights organizations, along with the offer to provide support when they are ready to deploy this technology on their infrastructure.

But like most things happening in 2020, the final activities of this project were affected by the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our project was initially designed to include in-person meetings with one or two people from our team who would observe and support the on-site deployment process with partner organizations. From that experience, we would then make adjustments to the documentation to improve the deployment process and make it more likely that organizations could deploy Tahoe-LAFS without our support.

With the pandemic stopping international travel during this project, we pivoted to offering documentation and virtual support for the partner organizations to install Tahoe-LAFS themselves while we made ourselves available to assist/support virtually. The timing for deployment, however, did not work out for our partner organizations, since the pandemic crisis and stay-at-home requirements have had an impact on partner organizations’ availability and have impeded their ability to access office hardware. Two organizations have expressed interest in self-led deployment later in the year, and because we see these relationships continuing regardless of this project’s official end date, we will gladly be available when they are ready to deploy.

In the meantime, we shared with our partners a draft of an installation guide, which combines the installation directions for both Tahoe-LAFS and Gridsync and distills them into a form more accessible to users with less in-depth knowledge of the underlying technologies. Our partners provided helpful feedback about how to make the instructions clearer, especially for beginners.

As we finish out this project, it is exciting to see the months of work, fruitful partnerships, and development all come together in the improved versions of Tahoe-LAFS, Magic Folders, and Gridsync, and a guide that can help human rights organization better utilize a secure, open-source, distributed storage option.

We are grateful to the Open Technology Fund for making this project possible. We are also grateful to our organizational partners who shared their opinions and views openly to help us consider our approach in new ways. We welcome community feedback and questions about this project, so send us a message at contactus [at] leastauthority.com