With contributions from Priscila Neri.

From Florida to Pakistan, people are capturing human rights abuses and life-changing events, and the subsequent video footage is powerful. That’s why our Last Month In Video series covers video news each month, highlighting the impact of video to shift narratives or document human rights abuse. We will also help you stay up to date with security and technology news that relates to video.

If you have a tip for a story, please feel free to reach out to us at feedback@witness.org  In the meantime, check out February’s post.

February 2018 in human rights video:

  • February 15: Florida students use video as a platform for gun control advocacy
  • February 22: Residents in Rio film destruction left behind by illegal police invasion
  • February 24: Apple moves to store iCloud keys in China, raising human rights fears
  • February 26: Islamabad High Court rules mobile network shutdowns illegal
  • February 28: The future of cameras and artificial intelligence


February 15: Florida students use video as a platform for gun control advocacy

The WITNESS Take: Bypassing what has now become a standard protocol of mass shooting followed by thoughts and prayers and then congressional inaction, high school students in Parkland, Florida offered us a never-before-seen narrative of a school shooting, utilizing social media to feature interviews with other survivors as the tragic events of February 14 took place. As the day unfolded, eyewitnesses videos lit up the local Snap Map.  David Hogg, a student journalist, added “I want to show these people exactly what’s going on when these children are facing bullets flying through classrooms and students are dying trying to get an education.” These students are prime examples of how the impact of video can be used to affect change by applying the principles of video advocacy to immediate effect on February 14 and afterwards, moving their message for gun control to prime time network TV and beyond while maintaining a constant presence on social media. And their powerful calls for action are paying off: David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, and others took part in a nationally syndicated town hall meeting last month with 2 senators, the sheriff’s department, and a lead spokesperson for the National Rifle Association. Support for the students, survivors, and family members of the Parkland shooting is picking up momentum as reform measures are being discussed—and passed—across the United States.


February 22: Residents in Rio film destruction left behind by illegal police invasion

The WITNESS TakeAs favela residents brace for the worst after the Brazilian president announced a military intervention that puts the army in charge of policing in Rio, courageous residents continue to use their phones to expose the violations they’re enduring. In this example, Maré Vive—a community media network—shares a video made by residents whose property was destroyed by police under military orders. After the local press parroted the version of events released by police and reported that the property was owned by drug bosses, outraged residents took to their phones to correct the story and film the damage left behind, explaining the house was actually built up over several years and rented as a space for parties and gatherings, contributing to the family’s livelihood. Once more, we see how video can be deployed quickly to counter false narratives and defy the curse of invisibility that too often still prevails in cases of police violence in favelas and poor neighborhoods.

Some of WITNESS’ guidance on how to film safely and the right to film were shared in a major newspaper after news of the military intervention broke.


February 24: Apple moves to store iCloud keys in China, raising human rights fears

The WITNESS TakeAs Apple moves to comply with Chinese law and host iCloud data with “a state-owned firm, human rights defenders face mounting risks by storing personal information—which can include contacts, notes, files, photos, and messages—in the service. While encryption keys will still remain with Apple, they are legally obligated to comply with warrants for information regarding criminal activity, which—unlike the legal framework for obtaining warrants in the United States—are both issued and executed by the police without the oversight of an independent court. The further danger to dissidents, activists, and human rights defenders is the level of scrutiny—or lack thereof—that is applied to these warrants; infractions which may trigger an investigation of criminal activity can includeundermining communist values, ‘picking quarrels’ online, or even using a virtual private network to browse the Internet privately.”

We recommend that anyone working with sensitive data assess their risks and take steps to protect their information—our primer on digital security includes the principles of threat assessment and links to leading resources on the topic, including Surveillance Self Defense by Electronic Frontier Foundation and Security-in-a-Box by Tactical Tech and Frontline Defenders.


February 26: Islamabad High Court has ruled mobile network shutdowns illegal

The WITNESS Take:  Pakistan’s High Court ruled that suspension of cellular networks during “civil unrest”—such as the crowds that amassed during the previous shutdowns on Pakistan Day— was “unjustified and a matter that caused distress to customers in times when people need the services most to get in touch with their loved ones.” The 2015 Pakistan Day shutdowns in the country’s capital affected networks in a 5km radius, including a major hospital and airport in the government’s attempt to secure the area. The High Court’s ruling is a key victory for freedom of expression as the right to stable and open access to the internet is under threat across the globe, and videos of protests, violence, and human rights abuse are increasingly shared using mobile data plans and social media platforms.

As targeted shutdowns are still taking place and are centered around major Pakistani cities and events such as elections, people who capture video should be prepared to safely store their footage offline—visit our archiving website for more resources and information.


February 28: The future of cameras and artificial intelligence

The WITNESS TakeCameras are getting smarter. New technology is bolstering the power of “dumb” cameras such as those used in CCTV, nanny cams, and home security systems. And with even newer technology which embeds artificial intelligence (AI) programs into cameras directly, the human rights world can rejoice at the implications of being able to, for example, quickly find a perpetrator in a video without the need for massive dedicated teams and resources. Patterns of abuse and mass atrocities can be recognized perhaps before they reach a critical point, helping investigators and human rights defenders hold perpetrators accountable and preventing mass deaths and displacement. But the very notion of intelligent cameras should give us pause for that exact reason. Using a supercharged network of cameras and AI technology, Chinese authorities can now locate people in a matter of minutes, meaning that yes, “criminals” can be located but so can dissidents and activists. As these technologies further develop and governments gain unprecedented access to data sourced from peer-to-peer surveillance and pin-pointed facial recognition, it is more important than ever that activists take measures to protect themselves and their communities.

Apps like ObscuraCam, which we co-created with The Guardian Project and groups like Tactical Tech and Article 19 have useful resources to help activists fight surveillance.


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