We’re pleased to welcome guest bloggers Wendy Betts and Raquel Vazquez Llorente here to share their insights on documentation apps and metadata for legal purposes. Wendy Betts is the Director of eyeWitness to Atrocities, an organization that combines legal and technological expertise to aid investigations and promote accountability for international crimes. Raquel Vazquez Llorente is the Senior Legal Advisor.
By Wendy Betts and Raquel Vazquez Llorente
For human rights defenders and activists using photo and video to document abuses across the globe, metadata plays a crucial role in authenticating and verifying their footage for external audiences. As Yvonne Ng addressed in a previous blog post, there are multiple apps that can be used for documenting human rights abuses, but not all will serve the same purpose. They may offer different functionality. They may also capture different metadata, and record these data points in varied ways.
In this series of two blog posts, we dive deeper into the considerations you should keep in mind when evaluating and selecting which app is right for you. You can read Part I: Understanding the data points that apps collect, and how they are generated.
Documentation apps can automate the collection of metadata so that you don’t have to do it by hand. However, if you are planning to use the metadata to help with the verification and authentication of the footage, it’s important you grasp how the metadata is captured, stored and shared. This understanding is crucial in a legal setting, where you must demonstrate the integrity of the footage and the accuracy of the metadata.
To be used in legal proceedings, photos and videos should ideally have a chain of custody. The key to chain of custody is proving that the footage remains unchanged from the time it was captured. While this might not be always possible for human rights defenders, the metadata collected by a documentation app can help demonstrate chain of custody, but it needs to meet some conditions. The key concepts here are when was the metadata captured, and who potentially had the ability to alter it.
When was the metadata generated?
Some apps may not generate the metadata when you take a photo or a video. For instance, a hash value can help prove that a photo or a video has not been edited. However, it can only show that the media remains unchanged if the hash is generated at the time the photo or video is captured. Generally, if you take a photo with your regular phone camera, and later generate the metadata through an app, then this metadata will do little to help verify that your photo hasn’t been altered. You could have edited the media before generating the metadata! You will need then to find an alternative way of corroborating your footage.
Who had access to the metadata?
If the metadata can be accessed or changed at any point before reaching the intended recipient (be it media outlets, policymakers, investigators, or other activists), then it may not help much with the verification of the footage, or at least it may make it more time-consuming. If your app allows you to save the media and metadata in your regular phone gallery, or export it to a drive, server or email you maintain, you then are able to change the media or the metadata (or both). If you want to use your photos or videos in a legal case, you will need to convince the court that you have not manipulated the footage or metadata in any way, and that no-one else has been able to access or alter any of this information while it was on your drive, server, or email.
Different apps suit different needs. However, if you want to capture verifiable media it is important that you understand how your metadata is generated, and whether it can be altered. This is not just important, but is critical if you want to use your photos and videos for legal purposes.