WITNESS announces release of the ‘Cameras Everywhere’ report

I’m incredibly proud to have worked with WITNESS over the past year or so researching and writing the new Cameras Everywhere report on human rights, video, media and technology. Here’s the release for the report, for which I am lead author and researcher, with Sam Gregory, Yvette Alberdingkthijm and Bryan Nunez – and here is a direct download link (pdf):

Media Contact:
J. Coco Chang, 718-783-2000 x 316


WITNESS Provides a Roadmap Report on How to Create a More Powerful Video-for-Change Revolution  

NEW YORK–September 6, 2011–As human rights activists and ordinary citizens risk their lives across the Arab world, WITNESS’ latest report argues that we have not yet done enough to empower and protect those who attempt to expose injustices through video.

Video, a powerful tool for change, is enabling the public to become human rights activists on an unprecedented scale. It captures the stories of those facing human rights abuses and the direct evidence of violations. But empowering and protecting activists at the heart of this change and harnessing the power of video and technology to defend human rights, is risky, WITNESS warns.

Launching today, the Cameras Everywhere report calls on technology companies, investors, policymakers and civil society to work together in strengthening the practical and policy environments, as well as the information and communication technologies, used to defend human rights.

“Today, technology is enabling the public, especially young people, to become human rights activists, and with that come incredible opportunities. Activists, developers, technology companies and social media platforms are beginning to realize the potential of video to bring about change, but a more supportive ecosystem is urgently needed. It is our duty, through this ecosystem, to empower and protect those who are risking their lives,” said musician and advocate Peter Gabriel, co-founder of WITNESS.

For the Cameras Everywhere report, over 40 senior experts and practitioners in technology and human rights, like Marietje Schaake (Member of European Parliament), Bob Boorstin (Director, Public Policy, Google) and danah boyd (Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research), were interviewed on issues of privacy and safety, information authentication and management, network vulnerabilities, ethics and policy. Key findings from the report include:

  • Video is increasingly central to human rights work and campaigning. With more human rights video being captured and shared by more people than ever before–often in real-time and using non-secure mobile and networked tools– new skills and systems are needed to optimize lasting human rights impact.
  • Technology providers are increasingly intermediaries for human rights activism. They should take a more proactive role in ensuring their tools are secure and integrating human rights concerns into their content and user policies.
  • Retaliation against human rights defenders caught on camera is a commonplace, yet it is alarming how little discussion there is about visual privacy. Everyone is discussing and designing for privacy of personal data, but the ability to control one’s personal image is neglected. The human rights community’s long-standing focus on anonymity as an enabler of free expression must now develop a new dimension–the right to visual anonymity.
  • New vulnerabilities are emerging due to advanced technologies, like facial recognition, which are often instant, global, networked and beyond the control of any individual.
  • With more videos coming directly from a wider range of sources, we must also find ways to rapidly verify such information, to aggregate it in clear and compelling ways and to preserve it for future use.
  • Ethical frameworks and guidelines for online content are in their infancy and do not yet explicitly reflect or incorporate human rights standards.
  • Neither the United States nor the European Union routinely applies human rights standards in forming internet policies. And intergovernmental organizations, such as the UN, are not yet agile players within the policymaking arena of the internet. Meanwhile some governments, notably China, are making headway in both shaping policy against domestic freedom of expression and seeking to influence international standards.

Cameras Everywhere makes a number of critical recommendations to technology companies and investors, policymakers, human rights organizations and funders, which includes:

  • Calling on companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Twitter and Nokia, who are being pushed to the forefront of human rights debates, to step up their efforts in changing privacy controls, allowing for anonymity and developing user and content policies that better serve human rights defenders;
  • Ensuring legislative policies and international agreements are consistent, up-to-date and supportive of human rights, including scrutiny of monitoring practices for dual-use technologies that might be utilized for repressive purposes;
  • Incorporating human rights needs, checklists and impact assessments into technology investments;
  • Investing in training and support for using technology for human rights work;
  • Increasing transparency, accountability and accessibility of funding for human rights-related technology and
  • Building better engagement among technology companies, developers, human rights groups and policymakers.

“No one–not technology companies, NGOs, technology or parliamentarians–can afford any longer to treat these different sectors in isolation from each other,” said Sam Gregory, program director of WITNESS. “They increasingly intersect and human rights are central to all of them. It is our collective responsibility to address these challenges holistically.”

As human rights defenders continue to use the power of ubiquitous video to ignite social change, WITNESS is also announcing enhanced initiatives that will address their safety, build their skills and secure greater impact.

  • We will actively engage with key technology companies to push for policies and functionalities that better serve human rights activism and freedom of expression.
  • Through the WITNESS Labs initiative, we will increase collaboration with technology developers to create innovative tools that support human rights. The first project is the SecureSmartCam–a collaboration with the Guardian Project on the development of a set of mobile apps that enhances control over anonymity and consent and metadata documentation when using mobile video.
  • We will develop and distribute accessible training tools to build citizen activists’ skills to shoot, share and circulate video for human rights purposes.

For more details on research findings, recommendations and WITNESS’ next steps, please read the full report available at http://www.witness.org/cameras-everywhere/report-2011.

Report team representatives will be organizing panel discussions on Video Anonymization and Authentication and hosting a workshop on the SecureSmartCam Project at the Open Video Conference in NYC, September 10-12. To register as press, please go to: http://openvideoconference.org/press/.

WITNESS is the global pioneer in the use of video to expose human rights abuses. We empower people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. Founded in 1992, WITNESS has partnered with more than 300 human rights groups in over 80 countries, trained over 3,000 human rights defenders, developed widely-used training materials and tools, created the first dedicated online platform for human rights media, the HUB, and supported the inclusion of video in more than 100 campaigns, increasing their visibility and impact. Videos made by WITNESS and our partners have told dozens of critical human rights stories, and have galvanized grassroots communities, judges, activists, media, and decision-makers at local, national and international levels to action. www.witness.org



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