Access Now

Access Now is a non-profit founded in 2009 with a mission to defend and extend the digital civil rights of people around the world.[1][2] Access Now supports programs including an annual conference on Human Rights (RightsCon),[3][4] an index of internet shutdowns (#KeepItOn),[5] and providing exit nodes for Tor network.[6]

Access Now
Access Now logo.svg
RightsCon 2019 conference venue in Tunis.
A room hosting a RightsCon session organized by Access Now in 2019.

As of 2020, Access Now has legal entities in Belgium, Costa Rica, Tunisia, and the United States, with its staff, operations, and activities distributed across all regions of the world. In 2018, Access Now received approximately $5.1 million in funding.[7] Major funders include Facebook, Global Affairs Canada, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.[8]


Access Now was founded by Brett Solomon, Cameran Ashraf, Sina Rabbani and Kim Pham in 2009, after the contested Iranian presidential election of that year.[9] During the protests that followed this election, Access Now played a noted role in disseminating the video footage which came out of Iran.[9] Access Now has campaigned against internet shutdowns,[10] online censorship,[11] international trade agreements,[12] and government surveillance.[13] Access Now has also supported the use of encryption[14] and limited cybersecurity laws and regulations.[15]

Access Now runs an annual conference, RightsCon, a multistakeholder event.[2] The conference was first held in Silicon Valley in 2011, followed by events in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2012), Silicon Valley (2014), Manila, Philippines (2015), and Silicon Valley (2016),[16] thus alternating between Silicon Valley and a city in the Global South.[17] After being held in Brussels and Toronto,[18] RightsCon 2019 took place in Tunis, Tunisia (11-14 June).[19] The 2019 RightsCon event gathered activists and stakeholders from all over the globe to discuss the intersection between human rights and digitalization by government representatives, tech giants, policy makers, NGOs and independent activists.[20] The discussions were around hate speech and freedom of expression, artificial intelligence, privacy and data security, open government and democracy, access, and many others.[20] In 2020, RightsCon was scheduled to be held in San José, Costa Rica, but as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting instead took place in a modified online format.[21] In 2021, the 10th edition RightsCon will also be entirely held online from Monday June 7 to Friday June 11, 2021 due to continued global COVID-19 pandemic which altered several digital rights physical meetings.[22][23] The categories of topics for RightsCon2021 to be discussed by several digital rights organizations and individuals include: Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, data protection and user control, digital futures, democracy, elections, new business models, content control, peacebuilding, censorship, internet shutdowns, freedom of the media and many others.[22]


Access Now produces an annual report and data set on internet shutdowns around the world as part of the #KeepItOn project. This report tracks internet shutdowns, social media blockages, and internet slowdowns in countries around the world.[24] This report and data are published annually every spring.[25][26]


Access Now gathers data through the Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project (STOP).[25] This project uses remotely sensed data to initially identify shutdowns, blockages and throttling. These instances are then confirmed using news reports, reports from local activists, official government statements, and statements from ISPs.[5] Access Now defines internet shutdowns as "an intentional disruption of the internet or electronic communications rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information."[25] This means that these shutdowns include government as well as shutdowns caused by non-governmental sources. Individual instances are counted if the shutdown lasts longer than one hour.[25]

When compared to expert analysis of internet shutdowns, such as those tracked by the V-Dem Institute's Digital Society Project, or Freedom House's Freedom on the Net, Access Now's data has been found to capture fewer false positives but more false negatives.[5] In other words, Access Now's data are more likely to miss shutdowns which are captured by other methods, but those shutdowns captured are more likely to be confirmed by alternative sources.[5]


#KeepItOn data is used to measure shutdowns by a range of organizations and academic publications.[5] For example, the Millennium Challenge Corporation uses these data as a part of its Freedom of Information indicator on its annual scorecards, used for determining aid allocations.[27] Access Now's reports are also used in calculations of the total cost of internet shutdowns.[28][29] Other articles use these data to track trends in internet censorship in various countries and regions.[30][31][32]

Digital Security HelplineEdit

The organization offers a 24/7 advice to victims of cybercrime such as cyber-attacks, spyware campaigns, data theft, and other digital malfeasance through its helpline aimed at protecting citizens from digital attacks.[33][34] Starting in 2009, Access Now had offered support and direct technical advice to activists, journalists, and other human rights campaigners, but the Digital Security Helpline was officially launched in 2013.[33] Access Now claims to offer digital security guidance on topics such as; how to protect against data and credential theft and also targeted cyber-attack campaigns.[33][34]

The Helpline has been credited with helping to build people-first digital infrastructures, and one content moderation request at a time.[35] Some have claimed that the helpline provides lessons on how to build comprehensive and sustainable digital infrastructures while protecting the digital rights of the people they serve.[35] Its major focus is on protecting the digital wellbeing of CSOs, activists, and human rights defenders.[35] The rapid-response assistance includes working with individuals and CSOs around the world to provide emergency assistance and to help them improve their digital security practices to stay safe online.[35]

Others have criticized Access Now's methods of using in-country volunteers to identify attacks from their own government as unethical due to the risk it poses for those reporting via the Helpline and other reporting from government retribution.[36][37][38][39] While others have proposed automated systems to more ethically track these disruptions, they are still in the early stages, and have yet to produce regular data.[5]


  1. ^ "Access Now | Digital Watch". Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  2. ^ a b "Access Now". Access Now. Retrieved 2021-05-22.
  3. ^ "Home". RightsCon Summit Series. Retrieved 2021-05-25.
  4. ^ Gollatz, Kirsten; Beer, Felix; Katzenbach, Christian (2018). The Turn to Artificial Intelligence in Governing Communication Online. Berlin.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Fletcher, Terry; Hayes-Birchler, Andria (2020). "Comparing Measures of Internet Censorship: Analyzing the Tradeoffs between Expert Analysis and Remote Measurement". Presented at the Data for Policy Conference 2020 – via Zenodo.
  6. ^ "A Torifying Tale: Our experiences building and running Tor servers". Access Now. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  7. ^ "Funding | Access". Archived from the original on 2019-07-23. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  8. ^ "FUNDING". Access Now. Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  9. ^ a b "#iranelection: The digital media response to the 2009 Iranian election". Retrieved 2013-05-18.
  10. ^ Farrell, Paul. "Human rights groups condemn Nauru's criminalisation of political protest". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  11. ^ "Blog | Access". Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  12. ^ "Blog | Access". Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  13. ^ Solomon, Brett (2016-05-11). "This Arcane Rule Change Would Give U.S. Law Enforcement New Power to Hack People Worldwide". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2016-06-24.
  14. ^ "Encrypt All The Things". Archived from the original on 2015-09-27. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  15. ^ "What Congress Can Do About Cybersecurity If CISA Fails". Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  16. ^ "RightsCon Summit Series". Archived from the original on 2015-09-12. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  17. ^ "RightsCon Summit Series". Archived from the original on 2015-09-12. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  18. ^ Welch, Chris (2018-03-23). "Sonos is pulling its ads off Facebook and Instagram, but only for a week". The Verge. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  19. ^ Wekwete, Ory Okolloh, Sharon. "As the continent digitizes rapidly, Africans need a bill of data rights to protect them online". Quartz. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  20. ^ a b "Human Rights Work in Africa: From Digitization in Uganda to #RightsCon 2019 in Tunisia - betterplace-lab". en. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  21. ^ "Home - RightsCon Summit Series". RightsCon Summit Series. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
  22. ^ a b "RightsCon 2021 | Digital Watch". Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  23. ^ "RIGHTSCON – WORLD'S LEADING SUMMIT ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE DIGITAL AGE". [BETA] Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD). Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  24. ^ Taye, Berhan (2021). "SHATTERED DREAMS AND LOST OPPORTUNITIES A year in the fight to #KeepItOn" (PDF). Access Now.
  25. ^ a b c d Anthonio, Felicia; Cheng, Sage (2021). "Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project (STOP) Methodology" (PDF).
  26. ^ "Mapping internet shutdowns around the world". Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  27. ^ "Guide to the MCC Indicators for Fiscal Year 2021". Millennium Challenge Corporation. Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  28. ^ Kathuria, Rajat; Kedia, Mansi; Varma, Gangesh; Bagchi, Kaushambi; Sekhani, Richa (2018-04-30). "The Anatomy of an Internet Blackout: Measuring the Economic Impact of Internet Shutdowns in India". Think Asia.
  29. ^ West, Darrell (2016). "Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year" (PDF). Brookings Center for Technology Innovation.
  30. ^ Wagner, Benjamin (2018). "Understanding Internet Shutdowns: A Case Study from Pakistan". International Journal of Communication. 12 (1): 3917–3938. ISSN 1932-8036.
  31. ^ Freyburg, Tina; Garbe, Lisa (2018). "Blocking the Bottleneck: Internet Shutdowns and Ownership at Election Times in Sub-Saharan Africa". International Journal of Communication (in German). 12: 3896–3916. ISSN 1932-8036.
  32. ^ C, Siddhant (2019-11-07). "Exploring Possible Solutions to Curb Internet Shutdowns in India". Rochester, NY. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  33. ^ a b c "The cybersecurity helpline protecting citizens from digital attacks". The Daily Swig | Cybersecurity news and views. 2019-04-18. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  34. ^ a b "Digital Security Helpline". Access Now. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  35. ^ a b c d "Facing the Challenge of an Evolving Digital Civil Space". Digital Impact. 2020-05-14. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  36. ^ VanderSloot, B., McDonald, A., Scott, W., Halderman, J.A., & Ensafi, R. (2018). Quack: Scalable Remote Measurement of Application-Layer Censorship. In Proceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium.
  37. ^ Hoang, P. N., Doreen, S., Polychronakis, M., (2019). Measuring I2P Censorship at a Global Scale. In Proceedings of the 9th USENIX Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet.
  38. ^ Raman, R. S., Stoll, A., Dalek, J., Ramesh, R. Scott, W., & Ensafi, R. (2020). Measuring the Deployment of Network Censorship Filters at Global Scale. Network and Distributed System Security (NDSS) Symposium 2020.
  39. ^ Weinberg, Zachary (2018). "Toward Automated Worldwide Monitoring of Network-level Censorship" (PDF). Carnegie Mellon University.