Under the entwined and inflamed injustices that the world is facing (including a pandemic, authoritarianism, corporate exploitation of resources and privacy, racial capitalism, surveillance and the suppression of dissent), it is vital to have spaces that foster innovative resistance. RightsCon has long met this need. This annual gathering centers around the ever-changing role of technology in the fight for human rights.
This year, for the first time, RightsCon is online and free to attend! Register here.
WITNESS has been collaboratively developing sessions and panels that address the priorities of people facing exploitation and abuse. We would love to have you participate in these discussions with us, offer your own insights, and share our collective wisdom with your communities.
Here’s the conversations WITNESS will be a part of. Check back in to this post to stay updated!
TUESDAY, JULY 28th
Human Rights Documentation During Internet Shutdowns
9:15-10:15 AM EST
WITNESS Team Members: Dia Kayyali, Program Manager, Tech+Advocacy, Arul Prakkash, Senior Program Manager, Asia & the Pacific, and Yvonne Ng, Senior Archivist
Globally, internet shutdowns are on the rise. Shutdowns are intended to disrupt the ability to communicate information and expose violations in real-time. They often occur during protests, elections, and periods of political instability, and are often accompanied by heightened state repression, military offensives, and violence.
Documenting human rights violations is as important as ever during an internet shutdown- in fact, often even more so. Even if information cannot be shared in the moment, documentation can be a way to preserve voices that authorities are trying to silence, and to secure evidence of abuses that can be used to demand accountability later on. In the face of that silencing, human rights defenders around the world have discovered innovative ways to preserve and share their story.
This workshop will be a facilitated conversation that will allow speakers and the audience to share their practical tips for documentation by human rights defenders and non traditional media during shutdowns, From backing up media without Internet or a computer to innovative methods of communication during shutdowns, people are coming up with ingenious solutions. This workshop will provide a forum to share those solutions.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 29th
Christchurch Call Advisory Network: Civil Society Engaging Around Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content
3:00-5:00 PM EST
WITNESS Team Member: Dia Kayyali, Program Manager, Tech+Advocacy
In May 2019, the governments of New Zealand and France marked the two month anniversary of the livestreamed terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand by rallying governments and tech companies to join the Christchurch Call to Eliminate Terrorist & Violent Extremist Content Online.
The Christchurch Call Advisory Network is a group of civil society organizations from around the world that engages with representatives of the government and company signatories to provide additional perspectives, advocate for human rights concerns, and help hold signatories accountable.
The issues of violent extremism and terrorist content online – and actions taken in response to such content – impact many people and communities, far more than are currently represented in the Advisory Network. In this session, we will discuss the work of the Call signatories and the Advisory Network over the past year, successes and challenges of this model of engagement, and opportunities to become involved in the Advisory Network moving forward.
THURSDAY, JULY 30th
Deepfakes Solutions For Who? Decentering US Politicians, Recentering the Rest of the World
7:45-8:45 AM EST
WITNESS Team Members: Sam Gregory, Program Director and Corin Faife, Senior Coordinator, Emerging Threats + Opportunities
Deepfakes: Ignore the hype, but do prepare for the “reality”. This session will focus on re-centering the non-US/European world in understanding threats from and “solutions” for new forms of AI-based media manipulation like deepfakes and other synthetic media: tech to manipulate audio, photos and video to make it look like people said or did something they never did.
Following an intro to the existing deepfakes solutions discussion and how it relates to existing problems with shallowfakes (lightly edited or mis-contextualized videos or photos) the session will be structured around inputs from a series of regional and national expert consultations that WITNESS has held in Brazil, South Africa and Malaysia. These surfaced understanding of threats and prioritization of the ‘solutions’ being developed for this evolving and new form of mis/disinformation and gender-based violence. Learn more at wit.to/Synthetic-Media-Deepfakes.
Empowering the Documentarians: A Conversation About Standard-Setting, Data Ownership, and Returning International Advocacy to the Grassroots
9:00-10:00 AM ET
WITNESS Team Member: Raja Althaibani, Program Manager, Middle East and North Africa
Accountability for human rights violations starts with documentation of the violation. Documentarians play a key role in any accountability process, whether by informing investigative reports, supporting advocacy, or developing an evidentiary record for judicial proceedings. The increasing professionalization of “documentation” as a form of human rights practice has led to a push towards standardizing approaches to collect and preserve data, particularly with respect to information that may eventually be used for prosecutions or other judicial proceedings. But how are standardization trends impacting documentation and preservation efforts? What priorities are implicit in the standards being promulgated? Should trends in documentation drive standard-setting? This conversation explores what it means to set a standard, whose standards are being set, and how technologies and capacity building initiatives can ensure that human rights documentation remains a diverse and inclusive field and practice.
Leveraging Technology to Stop Impunity for Sexual and Gender-based Violence Crime
WITNESS Team Member: Libby McAvoy, Law Fellow, Video as Evidence and Kelly Matheson, Senior Attorney and Associate Director
12:00-1:00 PM EST
Human rights defenders tackling sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) are already meaningfully employing open source information (OSINF) and video information as tools for advocacy purposes as well as for the empowerment of survivors. However, the use of OSINF and video to investigate SGBV crimes has yet to reach its full potential as trial-ready evidence. There are good reasons for this, including ethical considerations and personal security challenges that are especially complex when working to prosecute SGBV crimes. Nevertheless, considering the widespread impunity of perpetrators of SGBV, there is a real, urgent need for better, more reliable accountability and justice for survivors.
In an effort to combat the trend towards impunity, this session looks at how high-quality, trustworthy and actionable OSINF and video information can be gathered and used to bolster criminal justice processes to bring perpetrators to justice, and help overcome barriers to other forms of justice for victims and survivors.
FRIDAY, JULY 31st
Online Protests: Lessons from the Pandemic, with Special Rapporteurs Edison Lanza and Clément Voule
10:00-11:00 AM EDT
WITNESS Team Member: Laura Salas, Program Manager, Latin America
Can email chains, petitions, demonstrations, and campaigns developed on social networks be considered protests? Should States ensure access to the internet to all citizens the same way they must ensure access to public spaces for the holding of gatherings? IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza and UN Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Clément Voule, together with leading human rights women activists in the region, will address the situation of online protests, and the scope of the States’ obligations to protect, facilitate and guarantee the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly.
Using as backdrop protests taking place worldwide amid the pandemic, and the 2019 protests in the Americas, panelists will analyze the role of the internet and the applicable standards and stakeholders’ roles to advance the protection of protests in the digital era. Panelists will delve into the expanding role of online protests for today’s democracy and aim to identify the main challenges, in particular legal gaps and practices of state surveillance; and draw on lessons learned.
This session aim to advance the concept of online protests and the relevance of the internet as a means of organization or as an enabling platform for protests. Through the discussion of standards and case studies, the debate will lead to a better understanding of the role of the internet in expanding the boundaries of democratic participation and the need to preserve original architecture of the internet to continue to exercise fundament rights. Finally, the interaction with the audience will contribute with ideas to implement the most recent IACHR report on Protest and Human Rights, to move towards closing the gap between national practices and the inter-American standards.
Host: The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, IACHR
Beyond the Platform: Content Moderation and Internet Infrastructure
12:15-1:15 PM ET
WITNESS Team Member: Dia Kayyali, Program Manager, Tech+Advocacy
Much of the discussion around content moderation has focused on social media platforms. But online speech depends on a host of support services, many of which may decide to deny that infrastructural support based on identity and message. Payment processors may be pressured to deny service to sites that support sex workers or sexual content, host whistleblower documents, or publish political content; content delivery networks may be lobbied by governments or the public to deny service to sites or customers as a way to limit the propagation of their speech; domain name registrars may face the same calls. Many are concerned about moderation at this level, recognizing that it is likely to disproportionately affect marginalized communities; others support it as an effective way to counter dangerous speech.
This panel brings together advocates, company representatives, technologists, and other experts to discuss the bleeding edge of content management and its potential implications for online expression and human rights. The discussion will be organized around a set of provocative questions (rather than set presentations) and audience participation will be strongly encouraged.