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Activism

I’ve posted my slides and talk from last week’s conference at King’s Place, London on the Power of Information. It’s a talk largely aimed at donor organisations and philanthropists, but it’s got some relevance to NGOs and activists they fund too. Go take a look.

I’m not a specialist in intellectual property, but I have had to gen up on IP rights in the digital domain over the last few years as part of my work first at Panos London, and then on the WITNESS Hub. Watching the creeping impact of IP restrictions and protections on human rights – principally on freedom of expression, but also extending into other rights – it’s been quite concerning there has not appeared to be a more international, cross-cutting and holistic effort from civil society to push back on corporate rights holders, and on legislators at the national and international level.

But then a few months ago came the mammoth and fascinating SSRC report on Media Piracy in Emerging Economies. And now comes the extremely impressive Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest, which takes a wide view across the range of the impacts of this IP creep, and still manages to present a compelling and specific case for a more progressive IP regime. I urge you to read it

A few brief thoughts on the text from a non-specialist…

I was particularly heartened to see the centrality of human rights in the declaration and in the legal framework that should govern IP:

Use human rights, including civil and political and social and economic rights, to scrutinize expansions of intellectual property rights that threaten access to essential knowledge goods and services.

And likewise the importance of archives in the digital age (although it would have been interesting to see inclusion of human rights and justice-focused archives too):

Promote limitations and exceptions that enable libraries, museums, archives and other “institutions of memory” to fulfill their public interest missions, while assuring that cultural and educational institutions take advantage of existing flexibilities.

As well as the inclusion of a specific section advocating for “development agendas to infuse all levels of international and national intellectual property policy making” is critically important and long overdue.

I did note, however, the continued absence of something I’ve discussed with a few specialists working in this domain, and which comes up in the recent report I worked on with WITNESS, Cameras Everywhere, namely whether material that is directly related to human rights in particular might be given a special status within the definition of “public interest”. This section comes close, with its “socially valuable”:

Recognize the continued role of public funding for types of production deemed socially valuable and systematically under-provisioned by the market, such as small-market audiovisual, musical and artistic culture.

Notwithstanding that debate, the Washington Declaration stands as a hugely important step forward in building critical mass in civil society for more progressive IP regimes worldwide, and I’m fascinated to see what impact it has on policy-making and advocacy alike.

[Addition: here’s a post from the professor at AU who hosted the meeting at which the Declaration was formed. He urges you to sign it – I’m #657…]

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):

NEWS RELEASE
Media Contact:
J. Coco Chang, 718-783-2000 x 316
jcoco@witness.org

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS NEED BETTER PROTECTION WHEN USING VIDEO AND TECHNOLOGY; TECH COMPANIES HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY

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.

Read More

I’m wearing my News Foo t-shirt in honour of the chain of conversations that has led to my being quoted in Tom Standage’s excellent Special Report in this week’s Economist, on the future of news. (Update: And in additional News Foo connections, Meg Pickard kindly extended an invitation to give a brown bag talk at The Guardian this Wednesday lunchtime – very excited about this.)

[Cross-posted from the WITNESS Hub Blog.]

Xinhua is reporting that more than 150 people have died in the clashes in Urumqi since 5th July, and more than 1,000 have been injured.

Riot police have been deployed to quell the protests, which began over the perceived mishandling by local authorities of a fight at a toy factory (listen to this overview from The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts) – today they dispersed protests both by Uighur women demanding the release of young Uighur men, and by Han Chinese men wielding weapons.  The Guardian’s Dan Chung and Tania Branigan were on a media tour organised by the Chinese authorities when they came across the Uighur women’s protest – click the image below to watch their video report.

Xinjiang protests

Over the course of today, we’ll point to key bits of analysis and footage coming out of Xinjiang (in addition to the sources I pointed to on Sunday – notably ESWN is compiling a lot of sources, and The Guardian’s got a good round-up of web-based coverage).  Here’s a note of interest about China’s information suppression strategy from the NYT today:

Internally, censors tightly controlled media coverage of the unrest and sought to disable the social networks that opponents might use to organize more demonstrations. Cellphone calls to Urumqi and nearby areas have largely been blocked. Twitter was shut down nationwide at midday Monday; a Chinese equivalent, Fanfou, was running, but Urumqi-related searches were blocked.

Chinese search engines no longer give replies for searches related to the violence. Results of a Google search on Monday for “Xinjiang rioting” turned up many links that had already been deleted on such well-trafficked Chinese Internet forums as Mop and Tianya.

BBCAccounts of Xinjiang violence |   Q+A on China and the Uighur minority |  Images of today’s protests

NYTNew protests in Western China after deadly clashes |  Photo sildeshow |   More about China’s Uighur minority |  Media tour goes very, very badly for the Chinese authorities

Protests outside Chinese embassiesNorway |  Turkey |  Germany |  Netherlands