Of all the projects on show at the Activist Technology Demo Day I found the work of the Guardian Project particularly interesting. They partner with Witness.org to provide tools for citizen journalists, protestors, human rights workers etc. Their aim is to use technology to assist people who are capturing stories in the field to more easily attend to some of the ethical issues such as anonymity & reliability.
Underlying their work is recognition of the duality that social media has become a powerful weapon for witnessing and holding authorities to account at the same time as we are seeing intensified efforts of repressive governments to turn social media against protestors & activists as a means of surveillance & control, using technologies mostly developed and sold to them by US and European businesses.
Their ObscuraCam app for Android enables an image to be redacted in order to preserve the anonymity of certain faces (say, people in the background of an interview) by inserting a step between capturing an image (still images for now but they are working on video) and publishing to social media. Despite it’s obvious utility and serious purpose ObscuraCam also manages to inject an element of play by allowing you to use a Groucho Marx-style mask to obscure someone’s face.
I’m also interested in the way that by using technology that has been developed as part of the core Android OS (to provide face unlock feature) and then inverting it’s purpose (to enable anonymity) the app draws attention to and makes us think about the kind of creeping surveillance – not just the sinister, repressive regime variety but the everyday commercial kind – that we should be mindful of.
They have also developed InformaCam as an additional plug-in, which is geared to the need to reliably establish the context in which images or footage have been captured, for example to help provide legitimacy or in certain cases to ensure legal admissibility. It works by enriching the image or video with additional metadata such as geolocation, compass bearing, altitude, light exposure etc that all help to establish the context in which the image was taken, in the words of technology manager Bryan Nunez, to “make the video, from at least from a technical perspective, as iron-clad as possible”. The version with metadata is stored in an encrypted version and can be shared with trusted users (before deleting from the camera if there is a risk of the images being confiscated) alongside a version that without metadata (that can also be redacted) for sharing publicly via social media.
Here is a good summary of the work of The Guardian Project & Witness.