The FT’s Business Life Editor, Ravi Mattu (diclosure: Ravi’s an old friend) covered Cameras Everywhere in his FT column last Thursday (it’s paywalled, unfortunately):

When the Egyptian government shut down the internet during the protests in Tahrir Square, it was seen as a form of repression.

Should access to technology now be seen in the same way as access to, say, clean water? And does this mean that the companies behind those technologies have a particular moral obligation to their users?

The authors of Cameras Everywhere, a report published earlier this month by Witness, a non-governmental organisation focused on using video to expose human rights abuse, argue that they do. (Full disclosure: Sameer Padania is the report’s co-author and a friend.) They looked at the role of mobile telephones and social media, as well as technology providers including Google, Twitter and Dailymotion, in documenting human rights abuses.

It’s a sign of the enormous shifts around us that even a paper like The FT can find room on its pages for a relatively specialised report of this kind. Next step is to encourage media outlets with paywalled content to make their human rights stories publicly accessible…


Bettina Peters, Director of the Global Forum for Media Development, an association of around 500 media assistance groups around the world, kindly invited me to introduce the new WITNESS Cameras Everywhere report to GFMD members in the latest GFMD Insider briefing. Here’s a cross-post of the piece, which speaks particularly to those involved in media assistance and journalism.


Cameras Everywhere: Video , Human Rights and Media

When I spoke on behalf of the human rights organization WITNESS at the 2008 Global Forum for Media Development conference in Athens – about what the emerging ecosystem of citizen video meant for media development, journalism and human rights – the Greek capital was itself in the throes of major protests and civil unrest. Like many other attendees, I went to Syntagma Square to take a look for myself. As I walked the protest route, I tweeted about the march, the clashes with police, and the aftermath – and I uploaded a few eyewitness videos. But I was one of the few, if not the only, conference participants doing so, it seemed.

Fast forward to today, and this kind of eyewitness video is increasingly central to human rights work – and journalism. It has been critical in drawing attention to corruption, torture, denial of rights, and repression around the world.  More human rights video is being captured and shared by more people in more places than ever before, often in real time. It is happening in organized and spontaneous ways, by people with training and without. And unlike the past, when this footage was largely mediated through news media, much of it is reaching the public unfiltered. Video, often live video, alongside other social media, was critical in the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. Media and the public have relied on these firsthand accounts to a striking degree.

These videos are shared, however, in corporate social media spaces and via mobile phone carriers (YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Vodafone, for example), many of which never before regarded themselves as having a stake in human rights. This is bringing a new range of players – often unwittingly – into the human rights field. By virtue of the sheer numbers of people using their products to report and expose human rights violations, these companies have both a stake and a say in how human rights are understood and handled worldwide, and they are increasingly being pressed to meet these responsibilities. Read More

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.

Read More