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 advocates with the opportunity to learn more about the on-the-ground realities of conflict, disaster, and even everyday repression than ever before.
The Center for Human Rights created the Video Analysis Project to help make sense of this new world of documentation. In collaboration with our human rights partners, we not only create innovative tools for video and image collection, processing, and analysis, but also address the following sorts of 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 the workflows of human rights organizations 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.
In July 2015, the Center convened a follow-up meeting to discuss the current state and future of the use of video and images in human rights advocacy, accountability and fact-finding. We also examined the possibility of creating a harmonized set of tools that the human rights community could use to gather, preserve, authenticate and analyze video and photographic information for use in advocacy, accountability efforts, and historical research. We would like to thank Benetech (through a grant from Google.org), Humanity United, the MacArthur Foundation, and Oak Foundation for making this meeting possible. The workshop report is available here.