A WITNESS PROGRAM
TECHNOLOGY. ADVOCACY. POLICY.
WITNESS engages technology companies, creates applications and supports digital policies that help human rights advocates safely, securely and ethically document human rights abuses and expose them to the world.
In today’s world, digital tools have the potential to increase civic engagement and participation, enabling people to document abuse, speak truth to power, make their voices heard, and protect and defend their rights. Unfortunately, bad actors are utilizing the same tools to spread disinformation, silence dissenting voices, perpetuate hate speech, and put rights defenders at risk. Because WITNESS’ work is rooted in grassroots needs and priorities, we know that the changes to the information ecosystem are of international significance, not simply U.S.-centric problems. In each unique context, our Tech + Advocacy team ensures that our skill-building, tools, innovation, and advocacy to social media platforms speak to both global and local gaps.
We have always been ahead of the curve, upholding positive uses of technology for human rights while combating threats to the human rights landscape posed by new developments. Thanks to our groundbreaking work launching The Hub on YouTube, curating citizen footage on the Human Rights Channel on YouTube between 2012-2015, and creating the first civic journalist-oriented guidance for filming in war zones, we have had a massive head start when it comes to anticipating new challenges, building strategic relationships, and addressing today’s challenges head on.
As the volume of media and the pressure from governments to censor content increases, platforms that rely on user-generated content are increasingly turning to algorithmic decision-making to moderate media, which creates new forms of discrimination. WITNESS ensures that tech platforms’ tools, policies, and operations protect critical public-interest content and vulnerable users, as well as address the under-resourcing and inadequacy of content moderation responses for high-risk societies and users.
PRIVACY AND SECURITY
Governments and bad actors have grown adept at using fear of terrorism and cyber attacks to justify highly invasive surveillance powers. As surveillance, criminalization, and violence increase across the board globally, WITNESS provides solutions to strengthen the physical and digital of activists through company advocacy, integration of resources and skills into WITNESS’ global trainings, increased internal assessment of WITNESS projects, and the development of tools.
RIGHT TO RECORD / POLICY ADVOCACY
Although the Right to Record is foundational to the use of video for human rights and upheld by law or judicial decisions in some countries, some countries’ laws and practices explicitly violate this right. WITNESS strengthens the right to record the police and military through education, collaboration with local groups, and international policy advocacy.
The spread of disinformation is decreasing the ability of both rights defenders to be seen and heard, increasing the ability of bad actors to silence activists, and undermining public and policymakers’ ability to make informed decisions. Through policy engagement and tool building, WITNESS continues to create and share reference designs (such as our partnership with the Guardian Project on ProofMode) for company advocacy, as we work to ensure that civic media isn’t negatively affected by efforts to fight disinformation, and that marginalized voices aren’t silenced.
We helped reinstate tens of thousands of videos depicting evidence of war crimes that were deleted from YouTube due to machine learning. Their new resource on the importance of context was informed by WITNESS feedback and suggestions on content management.
WITNESS submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council on Content Regulation in the Digital Age. Dia’s submission ultimately fed into a groundbreaking new report published by David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Obscuracam is a photo and video app for Android that keeps certain information private.
Our work around the Right to Record was recently affirmed at the United Nations in August 2018 in a resolution on “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests.”
Our aim was to create a lightweight, nearly invisible utility, that automatically adds extra digital proof data to all photos and videos you take. This data can then be easily shared, when you really need it, through a “Share Proof” share action, to anyone you choose over email or a messaging app, or uploaded to a cloud service or reporting platform.
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