Craig Higson-Smith
Daniel Ó Cluanaigh
Ali Ravi
Peter Steudtner
Publication Date

"When we work to bring about positive social change, we can face persistent threats and attacks which impact upon our physical and psychological integrity, and often affect our friends and families. However, taking an organised approach to security can help us to sustain ourselves and our work."

Based on Tactical Tech's conviction that, if used correctly, a small selection of tools and tactics can offer significant protection against a host of threats faced by human rights defenders (HRDs) around the world, this is a self-guided learning resource wherein individuals and groups can self-direct a path towards holistic security practice. The purpose of the guide is to build strategies to maintain HRDs' well-being and create space for activism and resistance - whether working alone, in small groups, collectives, or organisations.

The term HRD refers to anyone who promotes or defends any of a vast array of rights: civil and political rights (such as freedom of speech or justice for survivors of abuse); transparency and anti-corruption or greater political participation; environmental rights, social justice, and cultural rights; rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity; or advocating for the recognition of new human rights. HRDs suffer attacks at the hands of both State and non-State actors, as "[t]hose opposed to HRDs' work seek to close down the space for free and peaceful association, communication, expression, organisation and the support of survivors of human rights violations."

The Holistic Security Manual is founded on the understanding that "security" is a deeply personal, subjective, and gendered concept. The holistic approach integrates self-care, well-being, digital security, and information security into traditional security management practices. This means that rather than looking separately at the importance of our digital security, psycho-social well-being, and organisational security processes, it attempts to integrate them and highlight their interrelatedness. The approach frames security for HRDs as well-being in action: being physically and emotionally healthy and sustaining themselves while continuing to do the work they believe in. Furthermore: "We can not fully understand our security or well-being without taking due account of the role of the digital dimension in our personal lives and activism. This manual, therefore, explicitly integrates the need for an understanding of our technical environment and its relation to our work and our security."

The manual is designed to guide a process of establishing or improving security strategies for individuals, collectives, or organisations. The content is divided into 4 sections, which are conceived as steps in an evolving, cyclical process:

  • Prepare begins by recognising that each of us already has and takes security measures: our strategies for health and well-being, our personal beliefs and sources of resilience and our instinctive responses to threat and danger.
  • Explore follows a series of steps in order to analyse defenders' socio-political context and come to some conclusions about the concrete threats that may arise from their work and those who oppose it.
  • Strategise begins with the threats Tactical Tech has identified and considers how to create security strategies to deal with them, as well as develop concrete plans and agreements in order to maintain defenders' well-being in action.
  • Act involves learning new tools and tactics for security in action. This part of the manual is accompanied online by short, scenario-focused guides that focus on concrete tools and tactics - from the technological to the psychological and beyond - for security in particularly high-risk activities. The topics for the Act mini-guides - the first of which is Protest - have been chosen on the basis of being frequently experienced by defenders, and because the tactics which can be recommended are less context dependent and highly unlikely to cause harm.

Each of the sections is divided into a number of shorter chapters, the majority of which are accompanied by one or more reflective exercises that are designed to help readers get to know the relevant content in their own context. These exercises can often be used for individual reflection, but were written in such a way that they could also be carried out in larger groups. Tips are included to help the reader facilitate the exercises in a group setting.

Please see Related Summaries below for the accompanying training manual.

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"Holistic Security & How We Got Here", by Hannah Smith, November 8 2016 and Holistic Security Manual website - both accessed on April 19 2017. Image credit: Tactical Technology Collaborative