ICIJ to build Global I-Hub, a new secure collaboration tool

ICIJ’s commitment to collaborative investigative journalism has been affirmed today by a grant that will allow the development of a new, secure communications platform for reporters.

The Knight Foundation announced the $35,000 Prototype Fund grant today, awarded to ICIJ for the first stage of the Global I-Hub project, which ultimately aims to become a secure virtual space in which journalists can work together.

It comes at a time when the issue of online security has never been more prevalent, and journalists’ work has never been more at risk from prying eyes.

Great journalism relies on being able to work with sensitive information and share it without fear of it being compromised by governments or other powerful stakeholders. It also depends on journalists’ ability to protect sources and ensure their anonymity in cases where the information they’ve provided could put their livelihood, work, or even life in danger.

But too often those with the most sensitive information, including journalists, lack the tools or knowledge to properly protect it, particularly when communicating online. This normally results in fewer exchanges between reporters across borders.

Over the next six months ICIJ's Data Unit will use the Knight Foundation grant to build a communications platform with layers of security to protect journalists’ correspondence on collaborative projects. The Global I-Hub continues ICIJ’s commitment to nurturing stronger relationships between journalists around the world, and will enable our members and partners to work more closely and share information more freely. 

Building on the experience of the Offshore Leaks project, which involved more than 100 journalists from dozens of countries, ICIJ has already started drawing on the expertise of its existing network to design and build the platform with reporters in mind. The initial idea of the project came from ICIJ member Giannina Segnini, who will be advising its developmentA survey of ICIJ’s 185 members earlier in 2014 confirmed the project would fill a significant gap in any reporters’ toolkit, while a three-day human-centered design workshop in June funded by the Knight Foundation ensured the project would remain user-focused.

ICIJ will spend the next few months creating and testing levels of security and encryption around the open-source social network software Oxwall, which is currently being used in our ongoing projects. Once the Global I-Hub is secured, it will be opened to a test group – journalists, researchers and programmers from within ICIJ’s worldwide network – who will help improve the functionality and design according to their needs by a learning-through-making approach.

But, once implemented, the project would ultimately have much broader use, beyond ICIJ’s own network. There are many groups – journalists, social activists, and more – who would benefit from the ability to communicate securely with ease and from ICIJ’s learning experience in building this prototype. As part of the Knight Foundation grant, all the code will be open-source and able to be used by anyone with these sorts of needs.

Securing the communications is only the first phase of a much larger project, lead by ICIJ’s newly-formed Data Unit, which aims for better integration and sharing of data by journalists around the world. It’s all part of ICIJ’s mission to help journalists work together to produce better stories and more engaging global investigations.

We’ll provide updates along the way, so stay tuned!

In addition to funding ICIJ's Global I-Hub, the Knight Foundation also awarded a Prototype Fund grant to ICIJ member Djordje Padejski for his public records-scraping project Veritza.

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