Cameras Everywhere: Human Rights and the Ethics of Ubiquitous Video

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Witnessed: 9830 times

Updated version of a WITNESS presentation on video online and the human rights considerations around safety, security, dignity and consent.Please feedback via the comments section or directly to sam [at]


WITNESS was created over fifteen years ago, shortly after the Rodney King incident, by Peter Gabriel and other allies. At the time, our founders asked: What if every human rights worker had a camera in their hands? What would they be able to document? What would they be able to change? For fifteen years we have engaged with the risks, the opportunities and the possibilities for action that emerge from the power of moving images – training and supporting human rights activists worldwide to create real change.
Now, it is every citizen who has a camera - and it is participants, witnesses and perpetrators who are filming.

Everyday witnessing of human rights violations We have all witnessed videos, particularly mobile video, documenting and publicizing human rights struggle from monks marching for freedom in Rangoon and the election protestors in Tehran to individual voices speaking out against injustice on YouTube. Online there is an abundance of peer-produced content 'for the good’ and multiplying opportunities for transparency, participation and action.

But what about safety, consent, dignity and retaliation? However, despite the growing online circulation of images of human rights violations, victims and survivors, there is a limited discussion of the related safety, consent and ethical concerns that arise, particularly for people who are filmed.

What responsibilities do we have as witnesses? At the heart of human rights is the idea of respect for the dignity, worth and integrity of every person. We believe that we have an ethical responsibility as witnesses to violations to share the suffering of others in a manner that empathizes with - rather than re-violates and re-victimizes the victim or survivor of abuse.

How can we together respond? Issues around consent, representation and direct re-victimization and retaliation have emerged even more clearly in an open and networked online environment. Video is being reworked, remixed and re-circulated by many more people. With this we all see the renewed possibilities for action by a global citizenry but also real dangers that the technology community can help lead the way in confronting.

As a starting point for a conversation that we hope will share learning, identify problems and challenges, and propose solutions, here are some questions we focused on:

*How can we best introduce ideas around consent, safety and human dignity into broader online culture?

*What technology solutions can address challenges around consent, representation, and safety?

*How do we protect and balance openness and transparency with a proactive response to risks?

* Who else should we bring into this conversation? What are the best fora to engage with? How could we start to move this conversation forward?

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