While mobile devices can collect the information needed for verification, such as the date, time, or geographic coordinates, this information as well as the images themselves can be manipulated. The eyeWitness app addresses these challenges to increase the impact of footage in a court of law.
The eyeWitness app automatically collects GPS coordinates, date and time, and the location of surrounding objects such as cell towers and Wi-Fi networks. That means the location, date, and time the footage was recorded is confirmed by three separate, independent sources.
All footage is stored encrypted on the recording device and cannot be edited. In addition, the app embeds a unique identifying code (known as a hash value), which is used to verify that the footage has not been edited or altered in any way.
When you send footage from the app directly to our secure storage facility, you create a trusted chain of custody for the photos and videos. Only footage captured with and sent from the app is stored, ensuring that the stored footage is the original version. This original, encrypted footage is stored securely until it is needed for investigations or trial, which helps to maintain the chain of custody.
eyeWitness works with its partner organisations to ensure that collected footage is used to promote accountability for violations of international criminal law, specifically war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, or other systematic violence. When footage is sent to us, a copy is transferred to a specialised database for analysis by an expert legal team. This team catalogues, tags, and compiles this information into dossiers tailored to the specific needs of international investigators. We then work with local partners where possible, or with appropriate legal authorities in relevant international, regional, and national jurisdictions to ensure the images are used to bring to justice those who have committed international atrocity crimes. We aim to ensure our efforts do not duplicate or undermine any ongoing litigation or advocacy work. We are not an advocacy organisation and will not publish the images we receive.
The eyeWitness app can record videos, photos, or audio. The app should be used to capture raw footage related to atrocity crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture. This footage could be of criminal conduct, including the aftermath of an event (crime base evidence), or images that help to identify the individuals responsible for the criminal conduct, such as uniforms, insignias, license plates, and types of weapons (linkage evidence).
LexisNexis Legal & Professional, a part of the RELX Group, hosts the secure repository, database and backup system to store and analyse data collected via our app. LexisNexis Legal & Professional’s industry leading data hosting capabilities provide the eyeWitness program with the same technology used to safeguard sensitive and confidential material for LexisNexis clients every day. The database is not accessible to the public. Only members of the eyeWitness team may access the secure server, subject to strict internal protocols to protect the chain of custody.
App users always retain an ownership right to use the footage however they wish. After sending footage to eyeWitness, you will have the option to share a copy without the metadata to social media sites or with other organisations. If you provide contact information when you register, eyeWitness will notify you prior to sharing your information with investigators and give you an opportunity to object. If you do not provide contact information, you are authorising eyeWitness to use the footage for the purposes of pursuing justice. Through the dual use of the footage you capture, our app multiplies impact by facilitating both awareness raising and evidence collecting.
eyeWitness has shared photos, videos, and audio recordings with investigators at both national and international levels, including at the International Criminal Court and the United Nations. In August 2018, photos taken with the app were submitted as evidence in trial for the first time. (See Our Impact) Our partner organisations have also included photos collected with the app in advocacy reports, court cases, and communications submitted to the International Criminal Court.
The app design is based on four years of research and constant monitoring of evidentiary standards for digital evidence. Even the smallest adaptation, if not vetted through legal professionals, may undermine the potential evidentiary value of the information collected. Additionally, the app alone does not ensure the footage collected can be authenticated. A key component of eyeWitness is the server system and protocols in place for storing the information we receive in a manner that preserves the chain of custody. Thus, replicating the app alone would not necessarily assist human rights defenders to collect verifiable information. Regarding security, while opening the code does provide an opportunity for external review by interested individuals, it is important to eyeWitness that the app code is rigorously reviewed on a regular basis. We therefore rely instead on regular vulnerability and penetration tests by commercial companies. At the recommendation of the auditors we have obfuscated the app code, which would be undermined by opening the code to the public.
We give the users of our app the option to provide contact information or remain anonymous. Contact information could be helpful to future investigations, but the user must understand that this information could potentially be turned over to all parties to a legal case. If the user chooses anonymity, the footage remains verifiable using the hash value and the metadata sent with the images.
We do not collect any information about your device that could personally identify you as the user. Nor do we collect the IP address from which our users have sent the footage. We also do not collect any information about your location when the app is not in use.
eyeWitness regularly submits the app to professional penetration and vulnerability tests by accredited companies. Vulnerability tests identify security vulnerabilities in an environment, whilst penetration tests simulate a cyber-attack that aims to gain access to sensitive information. The purpose of these tests is to ensure that the app reflects the current best practices to prevent manipulation of the information and protect the safety of our users.
You do not need to be connected to the internet when recording photos, videos, or audio with the app. None of the metadata capture requires internet access. You only need to be connected to the internet when downloading and registering the app or when sending images.
eyeWitness is not an account style service. Individual users cannot access or retrieve the images they submit to the eyeWitness server. If you delete images, uninstall the app, or your phone is damaged or lost, eyeWitness will not be able to provide a copy of your information. If you are working for an organisation that has a partnership with eyeWitness, your ability to obtain a copy of any lost images will be explained in the partnership agreement. This is to protect users’ security.
The initial release of the app was designed for Android devices because Android has the largest share of the market for global sales. eyeWitness will continue to consider the feasibility of making the app available on other platforms. To ensure the security and integrity of the footage, eyeWitness requires Android version 6.0 or above.
Only you know the risks involved with owning and using the app depending on your specific situation, and you must therefore exercise caution. Before using the app, we recommend that you:
You can add notes to provide more explanation of the image by opening the image and selecting the information icon. This action will open a screen displaying details about the footage. Click on the line at the top to open a keyboard to type notes.
Yes, you can add information about an image, using the notes and tagging features, and resend the file. The server will recognise the new information as related to the initial image and attach it.
To send an image, you must enter the secure gallery using your secret password. Once in the gallery, select the image(s) to be sent, then press the arrow icon. The files are sent encrypted to the eyeWitness secure server.
A small green cloud will appear in the thumbnail in the secure gallery once the images have been received. A red cloud will appear if something has gone wrong with the transmission.
No, only images taken in the secure mode and stored in the app’s secured gallery can be sent to eyeWitness.
The app allows the user to choose whether to allow the images to upload automatically or to require a manual upload. This setting can be found in the Settings Menu in the app gallery.
Because the images are stored and sent to eyeWitness in encrypted format, they need a substantial amount of storage space. To make sure there is enough available space and the app performs reliably, the app limits the video size to a maximum of ten minutes. The app will automatically stop recording if there is not enough space to save the encrypted version or if the video, even if the duration is less than ten minutes.
You can delete an image by selecting the image and then pressing the trash can icon. Alternatively, you can open the image and select the trash can icon from the options in the bottom menu bar.
This option is the emergency delete feature. Selecting it will delete the app and all of its contents. Any images not already sent to eyeWitness will be lost and cannot be recovered. Users should be aware that even after the app is deleted, bits of encrypted information will remain on the device.
The eyeWitness app is available in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Russian. Upon installation, the app will detect the default language of the phone and install in that language. If the phone language is not one of the five, the app will default to English.
The app detects the language setting of your device. If your device is set to one of the app languages, the app will install that language version. If your device is set to a language not supported by the app, the app will install in English. You must change your device language settings to change the language of the app.
You can change the app icon so that the app is more difficult to identify. The “Change App Icon” option is found in the Settings Menu when you are in the app’s secure gallery. You can select which icon you would like to appear in the device’s app list then press the back button to exit. The user must enter and exit the device app list for the new icon to appear.
There are always risks involved with documenting human rights abuses. There is not only danger from the user’s proximity to a volatile situation, but also the risk of arrest or other repercussions from authorities who do not want information about their actions to be publicised. No technology can completely eliminate those risks. However, the security of our users is of utmost importance to us. Therefore, our app incorporates features for promoting the safety of the user. Nonetheless, each user is best placed to understand the risks involved with owning and using the app depending on their specific situation and must exercise caution, even if that means not collecting footage.
The app design incorporates a number of safety features:
The “Uninstall” option is the self-destruct feature. Selecting it will delete the app and all of its contents. The “Uninstall” option can be found in the menu in the camera view or in the Settings Menu in the secure gallery. You will be asked to confirm that you want to delete the app. Therefore, the delete feature requires three steps.
Any images not already sent to eyeWitness will be lost and cannot be recovered. Users should be aware that even after the app is deleted, bits of encrypted information will remain on the device.