WITNESS Discusses the Future of Human Rights and Technology

Last week WITNESS participated in a conversation hosted by San Francisco based tech company, Neon, discussing how video technology can advance human rights and the role Silicon Valley companies can play. On the panel, moderated by Rohit Sharma, was our Program Director, Sam Gregory, as well as Nicole Wong, and Ken Goldberg.

The panelists discussed pressing questions surrounding the intersection of technology and human rights, including:

  • How can more than a half-million images of war crimes in Syria lead to justice in the region?
  • And how are human rights issues impacted by the development and deployment of drones, high-res image capture, live video, massive government surveillance, and facial recognition software?
  • As the number of videos and images shared via social media and mobile technology explodes, how can individuals use this data to catalyze action?
  • And, as the center of technical innovation, what role could Silicon Valley play in the advancement of human rights?

A central focus of WITNESS’ technology advocacy initiative is engaging tech companies by asking these important questions and encouraging them to design tech solutions that not only serve the general public, but also benefit human rights activists.

Having attended the panel, the critical theory blog “Feedback” wrote:

[T]he evidentiary value of mobile phone technology is rapidly proliferating, as Sam Gregory demonstrated, yet it remains insufficiently mobilized by legal systems and inadequately serviced by the existing social media platforms that typically stand as these documents’ ephemeral archives.

Bloomberg View also covered the event and quoted Nicole Wong’s thoughts on how tech companies could more proactively include human rights organizations into their product development. Wong was at Google during its acquisition of YouTube and more recently she served as the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for President Obama:

Wong said that tech companies should think about working with human rights groups to figure out best business practices for our brave new image-and-video-dominated world, and she used her experiences at Google to illustrate why technologists need help.

Watch the full panel, or the two minute conclusion to the discussion, here.

Check out our Storify of the event here.

Photo: (c) Olivia Smartt


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