How do I Protect My Information?

When taking legal action, it is important to keep your information safe for the following reasons:

  • If important information about your case, such as correspondence with lawyers, strategy and evidence, is not kept private, this can weaken your position during your legal case or in negotiations. If the other side knows what evidence, strategies and arguments you will use, they can be better prepared in the case.
  • If information about you, your family, community or legal team, is not kept private, it can increase the security risks around your case (see How do I Deal with Security?)

For these reasons, it is important to have a strategy to protection your information if you are taking legal action.


Managing My Information

(a) Important Information in Legal Cases

Important information when you’re taking legal action could be:

  • Drafts of legal documents, such as claim forms and legal submissions. While these will be available to the court and the other side before trial, it’s important to keep these confidential until you want them to be shared. Otherwise, it could give your strategy and arguments away too early;
  • Sensitive evidence that you do not want to be shared too early in the court process;
  • Your identity and the identities of witnesses or people supporting the case. Normally, this information will be known by the other side but may have to be kept secret if there are security risks; and
  • Correspondence and communication with your lawyers. This is not information that should be shared and be generally protected by client privilege (this means its confidentiality is protected by law). This information could contain sensitive information and important strategies for your case.

Information can be stored in many ways. It may be in the form of:

  • Physical documents and copies;
  • Emails;
  • E-documents (digital documents such as pdfs);
  • Photographs;
  • Sound recordings; and
  • Videos.

Information can also be shared in many ways, such as:

  • Speaking;
  • Sending copies of documents by post or email;
  • Sharing information online (e.g. though social media profiles); and
  • Involuntarily when a defendant or opponent hacks into your accounts and steals information on your case.

Problems can arise when information (that should have been kept private) is shared with people who should not have known or were not intended to know about the information. To avoid this, it is in your best interests to take measures to ensure your information is private, safe and secure.

(b) Principles of Managing Information

The following areas are key to keeping to protecting and using your information:


(i) Keep your Information Confidential

The only people who should have general access to your information are those who have to work with it and who are aware of the obligations to protect the rights and security of the individuals or groups you are representing.

At different points of the going to court process, you will have to share information with the court and (usually) with the other side. For example:

  • You often have to notify the other side you are about to take legal action, and provide basic details about your case;
  • You usually have to file a «claim form» in court and «serve» it on the other side to formally start your case. This will contain your details and an overview of your case;
  • You will usually have to file in court and serve your legal arguments on the other side before you appear in court. This supposed to allow both sides to prepare for court and reach a negotiated settlement if possible; and
  • There will usually be a process of «discovery» or «disclosure» where both sides have to reveal the evidence their case is based on and important information the other side needs to prepare their case.

However, there are exceptions to these principles where revealing information would put you or a witness at risk, or where information is covered by client privilege. Also, it’s important for strategic reasons not to disclose too much information too early. As a general rule, wait until there is a legal rule or a court order that requires you to share information with the other side before doing so.

In some circumstances, it may be wise to release information but to redact (or black out) sensitive parts of a document. For example, when sharing information with journalists, you may want to black out sensitive personal information on copies of documents you are sharing (this can take some time with longer documents).


(ii) Protect the Integrity of Your Information

For your information, documents and evidence to be reliable and accepted in court, they must be complete and not corrupted by others.

  • For physical documents and evidence, make sure these are stored in a secure environment where they will not be tampered with, lost or damaged. It’s often best to file them in a secure location where they can be locked away.
  • For e-documents and information on your computer, make sure you have copies and that these are stored in password protected computers, accounts and virtual storage systems that are secure from hacking and are not publicly accessible. An additional measure is to use multi-factor authentication for your passwords, so people will need the password and a special one-time code sent to your phone in order to log in.
  • In some cases, it will be necessary to encrypt documents and communications, or to use communication platforms that do this automatically. This makes it harder for your information and communications to be hacked.


(iii) Make Sure Your Information Is Available for When You Need It

When you need the information to prepare legal arguments, show evidence in court, or cooperate with journalists, make sure it is available in a form that is fit for the purpose.


Useful Security Tools

There are a number of tools you can use to protect your information. Consider using the following resources:

Key Resources for Protecting Your Information

Surveillance Self-Defense: This is a quick guide about how to set up two-factor authentication on your devices.

Security in a Box : This is an easy guide to securing your information. It is designed to help advocates and human rights defenders secure computers, protect information and maintain the privacy of Internet communication.

Martus software: This a useful tool to help you keep information safe. This is a secure information management tool that allows you to create a searchable and encrypted database and back this data up remotely to your choice of publicly available servers.

  • The Martus software is used by organizations around the world to protect sensitive information and shield the identity of victims or witnesses who provide testimony on human rights abuses. The software is very user-friendly and can be handled by anyone with a basic experience of electronic mail.

The Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN): GIJN provides good security resources that are relevant not only for journalist, but also for your purposes. This includes resources on Safety and Security and Digital Security.

Guide to Secure Group Chat and Conferencing Tools: Front Line Defenders provide an overview about what chat and communication services are right for different types of communication.

Manual on Digital Security & Privacy for Human Rights Defenders: Front Line Defenders have a manual that provides information about internet/computer-based security risks and how to deal with them.

Digital First Aid Kit: The DFAK is a free resource to help activists better protect themselves and their communities against the most common types of digital emergencies. It gives tips on what to do if you lost your device, lose access to your accounts, receive suspicious emails or lose your data.


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