The article explores the concept of “witness” by looking at the history and tradition of giving testimony in three contexts, legal history, religion, and literary narrative, with the goal of situating lawyers within these traditions. The author’s interest in the topic was prompted by years of frustration with the circumscribed role of lawyers in the judicial system’s truth-telling enterprise and, more profoundly, by concerns with lawyers’ restrained capacity to shape truth in the larger, social-cultural sense. The question asked, therefore, is whether lawyers, who are positioned to witness (as in “behold”) so much about society, and have the social authority to witness (as in “attest”) to what they have seen, have an obligation, or at least a right, to speak. If so, what are the parameters of this role, what are its roots, and what is the nature of the discursive practice?
As citizens continue to play a critical role in supplying news and human rights footage from around the world, YouTube is committed to creating even better tools to help them. According to the international human rights organization WITNESS’ Cameras Everywhere report, “No video-sharing site or hardware manufacturer currently offers users the option to blur faces or protect identity.”
YouTube is excited to be among the first.
Today we’re launching face blurring – a new tool that allows you to obscure faces within videos with the click of a button.
Advocacy in any arena generally takes a long long time. In this context we’re talking about pressuring key Silicon Valley companies that have gone in under a decade from being simple technology providers to being an integral part of everyday human activity across much of the planet.
That one line quoted above was something we’d been talking to YouTube/Google about for 4 years (and that’s more than half of YouTube’s own existence). Those who can make seemingly simple changes like this happen are busy people operating within multiple sets of interlocking wheels of law and policy, and myriad competing internal demands. The conversations with these people started before I got to WITNESS, and they continued after I left in mid-2010 (and continue to this day) – and as the Cameras Everywhere report shows, there’s still plenty to discuss in the future.
Here are my personal recollections and reflections on how the conversations with YouTube that I was involved in developed – with the accent strongly on “personal”. Since I left WITNESS 2 years ago, I’m not party to the latest conversations between YouTube and WITNESS – but I do know where the seeds came from and how they took root. Over at the WITNESS blog Sam Gregory explains the human rights dimension of this move by YouTube.
I am sharing this therefore partial account in the hope that reading a little about our experience will give succour to other activists and researchers running into what seem like brick walls right now. Keep talking, keep trusting, and keep pushing… and embrace serendipity.
[Thurs 19 July – I’ve slightly clarified some of the written-at-1.30am-language…]
[Sun 22 July – further clarification, including of when I left WITNESS.]
When I worked at WITNESS, we debated hotly how to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008. We wanted to do something that felt contemporary, that felt open as a campaign, and that anyone – anyone – would have a response to and could run with. What we came up with, and what ended up catching the imagination of quite a few people, was a simple question:
What image opened your eyes to human rights?
To kick things off, I recorded a load of interviews with interesting activists, researchers, journalists and filmmakers when I was at the GFMD conference in Athens. I’ve just put a playlist of these short, sometimes spine-tingling interviews onto YouTube. Here, as a taster, is Mary Robinson’s answer:
Head on over to the WITNESS blog, where you’ll find my new post on the ethics of facial recognition.
I’ll post a slightly different version here over after the weekend, with a bit more detail in a couple of areas.
UPDATE (July 2012):
I’m not sure when time will permit, as I’ve been fairly consumed with completing my freelance work, and then moving to my new job at OSF, but I’ll endeavour to post all the resources I collected related to face recognition and human rights, as I hope they’ll be of use to other researchers and advocates in the field. In the meantime, quite a few of the resources I found I linked to from these two posts:
The Ethics of Face Recognition Technology (March 7th, 2012)
Tactical and Technological Defences for Face Recognition Technology (May 18th, 2012) – and this was also posted in a slightly amended form by PBS MediaShift (18th June 2012).