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How an app can help end impunity - RightsCon 2021

On 9 June 2021, eyeWitness to Atrocities had the privilege of presenting at RightsCon, the world’s leading summit on human rights in the digital age. A week long event, RightsCon empowers individuals and collectives to come together to discuss and scrutinise modern technologies, and to configure ways to use technological developments to promote human rights.

This year’s presentation showcased the eyeWitness to Atrocities app in a tech demo hosted by Partnership Advisor, Maria Mingo. In a video that one participant described as “comprehensive and powerful”, Maria demonstrated the eyeWitness app, highlighting its key features – in particular its security features – and explained how the technology can be used to end impunity. She was also able to respond to questions and comments via a live chat box.

This year was significant in that it marked RightsCon’s 10th anniversary and the second year running that the summit was successfully held online due to the covid-19 pandemic.

In case you missed it, you can watch the full eyeWitness tech demo and read the questions and answers below. If you have any questions about the demo, the showcased app, or eyeWitness in general, please get in touch at general@eyewitness.global.

Questions and Answers

Q: In the description section that can be sent along with the video and the image, is it possible for human rights defenders to structure the way a description is provided? For example: to record metadata such as who is the victim/perpetrator in the video, what kinds of violations are occurring and so on?

A: The description can be typed as free text, so it can be structured according to the preference of the user. We usually advise to include information that relates to the date the event took place (especially if the information is recorded after the fact), information related to the alleged perpetrator(s), victims' names (if security permits), and context to the event and what can be seen in the photo or video. In essence, we recommend including anything that could be useful for investigators to see if and where the footage could fit into their investigations.

Q:Who/what company developed the eyeWitness app?

The eyeWitness app was initiated and funded by the International Bar Association (IBA). It was designed with input from lawyers and activists. We used commercial developers to build it.

Q: Is the app code freely available?

A: The code is not open. 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. You can learn more about this in our article about human rights technology and cybersecurity.

Q: Does this app apply globally? Can I use it anywhere in the world?

A: The app is available free of cost for anyone who wishes to use it (no identifiable information about the user is collected) in countries in which serious human rights violations, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide are being committed. For example, the app has been used in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Palestine, Colombia, Ukraine, Myanmar, and The Gambia. At this time, it is available only for Android phones version 6.0 or higher (almost any Android since 2015).

Got more questions?

We have a list of frequently asked questions on our FAQs page.