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Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2019-04
End: 2020-02


A secure messaging app with offline capabilities

Briar is a secure messaging app designed for activists, journalists and civil society groups. Instead of using a central server, encrypted messages are synchronized directly between the users' devices, protecting users and their relationships from surveillance. This project will enable users of Briar to delete their private messages. Giving users control of what information their devices retain will allow them to practice defence in depth, managing their exposure if their devices are lost or compromised.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

When you get up in the morning, and read a fine piece of investigative news about a financial scandal, you don' t really stop to think much about how news is produced and what the human cost of its production is. Every year, dozens of journalists around the world get killed, because of what they write and who they talk to. Even in democratic countries, people can run the risk of intimidation and retribution. If you happen to be a courageous journalist writing about corruption, gangs or some other social wrong, protecting your sources is more than a matter of principle - it can be a matter of life and death for all parties concerned.

Journalists and other vulnerable groups like civil society groups as well as minorities are starting to understand they need to forsake some of the comforts of modern connectivity, in order to avoid danger to their lives and the live of others. If they use commodity internet communication tools, they will likely put themselves at significant risk. This danger lies not just in leaking the content of what they write and what other people send to them, but more so in the ability to observe who interacts with whom, when, and where they are in the real world while they meet on the internet. if you want to be reachable across the internet, you have to constantly let the communication provider follow you wherever you go. With the help of AI and other technologies much can be derived from 'hidden data' you may not have been aware of until now. Next time you use the wifi in the public library while waiting for your informer, who knows who will be sitting behind you?

Briar is a dedicated communication tool that allows for people to relay messages through people they can mutually trust, when they cannot trust using the public internet. The best way of staying anonymous is not having to reveal your identity, as this allows for a level of indirectness that can save lives. Briar is an open source messaging application that someone in need of such a tool can start using without other technological dependencies. It creates an 'off-grid' sneakernet which can be used to convey sensitive messages, without leaving unnecessary traces or endangering the people carrying the message - they have no access to the messages of others. Among other things, the project will make it possible to not just send messages, but also in subsequent communications instruct to remove sensitive information that is no longer relevant or is too dangerous to hold onto. And of course, Briar can be used by normal people as well - if you are in a private or business situation that calls for extreme security measures, or the internet is temporarily not available you will be happy to have this app on your mobile phone.

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This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.