Citizen-shot media is often missing vital information that would enable news organizations, courts of law and human rights organizations to trust its veracity. To help resolve this, WITNESS and the Guardian Project are developing InformaCam, the first mobile app seeking to enrich metadata in order to address issues of authentication for digital media.
With cameras virtually everywhere, and social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube defining a new public square, radical new opportunities are available to promote social justice. But with new opportunities come new challenges. With two decades at the intersection of human rights, media and technology, WITNESS is at the forefront of making this broad new ecosystem conducive to human rights video.
WITNESS advocates for users to have the ability to create content with human rights value freely and effectively; control their own data and identity online; certify that their content should be trusted; and connect widely and freely with content, ideas, and people. Our policy priorities start offline with advocating for the Right to Record and extend to working with peers to increase online access, protect privacy, and overcome censorship and surveillance regimes.
During the Arab Spring and other more recent uprisings, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were celebrated (and sometimes criticized) for their role in sharing information about protests, generating media coverage, and facilitating grassroots social movements. For the average user, these are the de facto platforms and spaces used for human rights organizing and advocacy. As never before, it is in the hands of technology companies to help or hinder the space available for promoting human rights. Now is the moment for industry leaders to step up to the plate and support thousands, if not millions, of people by adopting features, policies and products that protect the safety of users and support core human rights values like privacy and anonymity.
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WITNESS has developed deep relationships with leading technology companies, advocating for “proof-modes” for platforms and products, and making sure users explicitly choose whether to add potentially risky metadata while documenting along with other ways to maintain the integrity and verifiability of their videos.
We are also advocating for more advances, such as blurring functionalities, that would address privacy and security concerns for human rights users, and that would offer better on-demand guidance for vulnerable users. And we are working proactively to engage with new forms of video technology, such as livestreaming and Google Glass, preparing to shape the field to respond to the next iterations of technology to come.
These private engagements are complemented by public, high profile advocacy, including WITNESS workshops and panel participation at events such as RightsCon, the Web Summit, and a Google Tech Talk. Through national and global policy debates, presenting at conferences and panels, joining coalitions, and taking vocal stands via our blog, we are communicating with decision makers about relevant policies in privacy and technology.
Additionally, we are developing specific tools designed to bridge gaps for users immediately. Our award-winning application InformaCam, developed in continuing collaboration with The Guardian Project, allows users to easily understand and control what and how metadata is embedded in their media — empowering them to protect their own privacy and security, or to verify, validate, and prove a video’s authenticity.
The app is also a reference design for “proof modes,” which WITNESS is using to engage key users in the international criminal justice and human rights systems about the need for making evidentiary data portable across platforms and devices as well as user-friendly. Our newest pilot, an exploration into livestream technology, seeks to empower distant witnesses – people watching human rights crises from a “comfortable” distance – to take tangible action through innovative uses of livestream video technology. We call this “Co-Presence for Good.” As with all of our work, the core of these efforts is to empower and protect as many people as possible.
The goal is to support an exponential number and diversity of people – from the accidental witness or the bystander caught on camera to the most advanced and experienced citizen journalists in the field. WITNESS strategically manages investments made in this area, recognizing that several of our initiatives include “big gamble, big return” outcomes that are extremely ambitious — but well worth pursuing for their potential impact.