Video and Human Rights-Center for Human Rights Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Video and Human Rights

The ubiquity of mobile phones with excellent cameras and Internet access means that ordinary citizens, victims of human rights abuse, and participants in armed conflicts, protests, and disaster situations can now disseminate information, photos, and video for the global community to see. Repressive governments, armed militias, mafia groups and drug traffickers can view these videos and post their own as well. This set of developments creates a host of ethical, security, and political dilemmas, but it also provides human rights activists, military personnel, politicians, lawyers, academics and ordinary people with the opportunity to learn more about the on-the-ground realities of conflict and disaster zones than ever before.  Over the next several years, the Center for Human Rights, in conjunction with the human rights community, computer scientists, social scientists, and ethicists, will develop and carry out a research agenda that addresses the following set of interlocking questions: What are the new possibilities opened up by these technologies?  How can we organize massive amounts of user generated content, extract relevant information from it, analyze this information, and package conclusions into compelling, comprehensible, and actionable formats?  What are the potential pitfalls of these activities--e.g., privacy concerns, risks to sources, or the false confidence that we are now able to know everything about what is happening in the world?  Will traditional fact-finding missions still be necessary in the coming decades?  How can new forms of digital evidence be integrated into justice and accountability efforts?  And most importantly, how can we ensure that marginalized and disenfranchised people benefit from, and are not put into even more danger by, these new technological capacities?  

In an effort to kick off this endeavor, the Center held a workshop in August 2014 on the technical, legal, and ethical dimensions of video forensics in human rights abuse and war crimes investigations.