“Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights
The AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program, with funding from the Oak Foundation, works to expand the applications of geospatial technologies to human rights issues through its Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project.
Geospatial technologies include a range of modern tools, such as remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that allow for mapping and analysis of multiple layers of georeferenced data.
Analysis of such data can provide critical information on:
- the impact of remote, isolated conflicts on civilians
- a host of human rights violations
- environmental and social justice issues
- indigenous rights
Geospatial technologies can broaden the ability of non-governmental organizations to rapidly gather, analyze, and disseminate authoritative information, especially during times of crisis. They can also provide compelling, visual proof to corroborate on-the-ground reporting of conflicts and natural disasters affecting human rights.
SRHRL partners with human rights organizations to provide technical assistance in using geospatial technologies to strengthen advocacy campaigns, support legal cases, and enhance response coordination and prevention efforts.
False-color imagery of waterways southwest of Bodo, Nigeria on 26 January 2009 display the effects of a major oil spill, with vegetation death concentrated primarily near the river and its tributaries. For more information, see our report.”
…Based in a nondescript suite of offices near Harvard Square in the Boston suburb of Cambridge, Raymond heads a small team of staff and student volunteers who monitor events on the ground in the heart of what is practically a war zone. Every day Raymond and his staff meet in what is dubbed the “situation room” and news and reports from Sudan are analysed. They also pore over satellite pictures and compare them with a database of previous shots, looking for changes such as new military roads or camps, or troops on the move.
One day last week, SSP staffer Brittany Card was analysing news stories from Sudan describing a governor visiting two camps that were listed as mobilisation points for the People’s Defence Force, a militia group widely used in repressive actions by the government. SSP imaging expert Isaac Baker traced out two rectangles to cover each camp. “We don’t have a recent collect on that,” observed Raymond. Baker began to tap out a request for fresh satellite imagery as Raymond and Card discussed which camp to monitor if only one picture could be taken. “The one on the east,” she said eventually. By using such advanced satellite imagery and being able to commission and take photographs within hours of receiving reports from the ground, SSP can genuinely plot and analyse the course of the conflict. “We don’t move the pieces on the chess board. But we have to figure out what they mean,” said Raymond.
SSP’s work was initially conceived as mostly gathering evidence that might be used in any future war crimes tribunal for Sudanese leaders. But the imagery was so accurate that it could also be used to monitor claims about massacres and mass graves. After someone on the ground described watching bodies being buried in a mango grove in the town of Kadugli, SSP was able to document the site from the air. It also uncovered what appeared to be body bags lying in freshly dug pits elsewhere in the town.
It has also shown troops surrounding towns and burned villages. In one astonishing set of images, it even captured an Antonov transport plane – from which Sudanese forces regularly roll out bombs – caught in mid-flight with plumes of smoke rising where the explosives had been dumped on civilian targets.
In September last year, the group’s analysis revealed what appeared to be an imminent attack on the town of Kurmuk in the Blue Nile province. Photographs revealed at least 3,000 troops equipped with tanks, artillery and attack helicopters. That prompted SSP to issue a warning, giving an opportunity for many to flee.
For Raymond and his team, it was a turning point: they were no longer just observers, but were able to have an impact. For a humanitarian group operating thousands of miles away from the crisis, this was new territory.
“No one is doing what we are doing right now. It is a splitting the atom moment for the human rights community,” said Raymond. However, the experience of Kurmuk – which did later fall to the army – also came with a sense of danger and great responsibility. “What if we get the direction the force is going wrong? You could have walked the civilian population right into them,” he said.
There is already talk of the group’s methods being applied to Syria, or to other nations caught in the turmoil unleashed by the Arab spring. It has overturned the idea of what investigating human rights abuses means.
“It is no longer enough just to stand at the graveside snapping pictures; that doesn’t cut it any more,” said Raymond.”
“There’s a term that I came across last year called “White Space“, and it’s best definition is:
“…where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are nonexistent, and strategy is unclear…”
The most innovative ideas come from this white space; internally within organizations, in the startup space and in society in general. At the end of the day, much of the white space definition looks a lot like where I live and work in Africa. And I think it’s why its sometimes easier to come up with innovative solutions there, and why we’re going to see an increasing number of solutions to the problems in the West coming from places that look a lot like Africa.
The best disruptive ideas come from the edge. So, let’s look at the edge, cases from around the globe, for some examples of how technology is being used to make an impact on violence prevention.
- HarassMap (Ushahidi + FrontlineSMS) – Egypt
- BullyMapper (FrontlineSMS + Ushahidi) – Australia
- Human Rights (Ushahidi) – Saudi Arabia by Amnesty Int’l
- YoungAfrica Live (Internet via mobile) – South Africa
- YETAM (FrontlineSMS + Ushahidi) – Benin by Plan
- Apartheid Watch (Ushahidi) – Israel and Palestine
- Hollaback (Phone cameras and a website) – US, India, Mexico and Argentina
- PeaceTXT (SMS and trained people) – US
- Maps4Aid (Ushahidi) – India
- Take Back the Tech (Ushahidi) – Global
“Across the globe—and without any organizing or mobilization by NGOs or watchdogs—people confronted with threats to their rights are communicating out those experiences, in effect reasserting agency over their own rights protection.” – Amnesty International
Those are all exciting examples, showing what can be done with new technology. Suddenly there are no barriers to entry, anyone can take part, and it doesn’t require that someone have authority to begin. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you want to do and galvanizing a community to take part.
Is technology a panacea? Not at all.
As my friend Clay Shirky says, “The technology only becomes interesting when it is no longer interesting to technologists.”
We use a graphic in Ushahidi to remind users of our tools that the technology is only a small part of any solution. We say that 90% of the work is non-tech related, and can take the form of organizing, outreach, branding, translation, etc.
It’s a reminder to us as well, that we need to focus on creating tools that augment human activity and get out of the way as much as possible. That, in the end, is what makes the earlier examples so interesting; they worked because they used the simple tools available in people’s pockets to interact and bring attention to a much larger population, audience or intermediary.”
“Following the momentum of the mPreventViolence workshop, The Avon Foundation for Women and the Institute of Medicine are challenging teams of individuals from the fields of domestic violence prevention and communications technologies to come together to raise awareness about and to help prevent domestic violence against women and children. This is a global challenge, and teams from both the US and abroad are encouraged to register.
Mobile- and web-based apps built on platforms open to the general public are eligible and will be evaluated based on the integration of evidence-based information, design and usability, creativity and innovation, potential for impact, and transferability to low- and middle-income countries. Apps can focus on primary, secondary, or tertiary prevention. Submissions must be accompanied by a proof of concept statement. For the purposes of the Ending Violence @ Home Challenge, the term domestic violence includes all forms of intimate partner violence, dating violence, child abuse, and others forms of violence that occur in the home. More information on terms and eligibility will be posted on March 8.
1st Prize – US$10,000
2nd Prize – US$7,500
3rd Prize – US$5,000
4th Prize – US$2,500
Registration and Submission
Registration opens on March 8, 2012 and will remain open until May 31, 3012. Teams will have until July 31, 2012 to submit their completed entries. More information on the registration and submission process will be posted on March 8.”
“The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is conducting the DARPA CLIQR Quest (Cash for Locating and Identifying QuickResponse codes (CLIQR) Quest), a prize-based challenge that seeks to advance the understanding of social media and the Internet, and explore the role the Internet and social networking plays in the timely communication, wide area team-building and urgent mobilization required to solve broad scope, time-critical problems.
In time of crises, we must ensure that the right resources make it to the right area in the right time. Delays in finding those resources cost more than time and money, delays cost lives. Finding the most efficient method of resource identification and delivery is paramount. It is a capability with clear relevance and importance to the military when it is called upon for assistance and existing data sources and social network analysis are not sufficient for accomplishing this task.
The CLIQR Quest has been crafted to simulate public mobilization for the identification of essential assets to assist in mobilizing and delivering aid efficiently. The event, like an actual crisis or disaster, is unannounced prior to the start date. The humanitarian crisis relief assets (e.g. water, food, gas, etc.) needed to quickly respond to a disaster are represented by appropriately named – Quick Response (QR) codes. QR codes have been distributed throughout the continental United States to represent the dispersion of resource concentrations throughout the country. CLIQR Quest participants will be challenged to locate other participants who have key assets that are represented by the QR codes. The event will only last for two weeks – the notional assets must be identified and coordinated quickly to ensure they make it to those in need.
The CLIQR Quest begins at 11:00 AM (EST) on Thursday, February 23, 2012 and ends at 12:00 PM (EST) on Thursday, March 8, 2012. Entries are accepted until noon, 12:00 PM (EST) on Thursday, March 8, 2012.
A cash prize of up to US $40,000 cash prize will be awarded to the first contest entrant to find and submit all of the available QR codes.
The winner will be announced and some results will be posted on the CLIQR Quest website during the week of March 12, 2012.”
The blog Taking Aim responded to DARPA’s challenge, putting forward the suggestion that a charity-driven element be introduced to the contest – her post is available here.
From Old Dominion University’s Web Science and Digital Libraries Research Group blog:
“The Egyptian revolution on the 25th of January 2011 was unlike any other revolution in history because of the role of social media. Several blogs, Storify entries, web pages, channels on YouTube where created to document the revolution. Several books were even published documenting the 18 days. All of these contributions were made by the public, not historians, utilizing the tools of web 2.0. As a result of all these contributions we have an enormous digital content including thousands of posts, tweets, images, videos and sound files narrating and documenting the revolution. Unfortunately, at the first anniversary of this revolution over 10% of this digital content is already gone.”
“As stated earlier, there are several resources that curate the Egyptian Revolution and we want to investigate as many of them as possible. At the same time we need to diversify our resources and the types of digital artifacts that are embedded in them. Tweets, videos, images, embedded links, entire web pages and books were included in our investigation. For the sake of consistency, we will limit our analysis to resources created within the same time frame. For this purpose we tried to use the period of 20th of January until the 1st of March was selected as our temporal filter. Finally, to remove the possibility of transient errors skewing the results, we repeated our experiment 3 times over a period of three weeks before declaring a resource missing.
Our test collection consisted of:
- Three stories from Storify, which contributed a total of 222 resources (26 of which are videos, 179 are images and the remaining 17 are links).
- IamJan25.com website, from which we investigated all the pages containing user-contributed images (1225 images on yfrog and 1703 images on twitpic making a total of 2928 unique image links) and videos (2387 unique video links on YouTube).
- Tweets From Tahrir book having 1118 tweets, 23 of which have embedded images.
- 1000Memories/egypt webpage and its associated resources.”
Experiment results and data available here.
Post from Adam Clayton Powell III on the CPD blog on the battle over the Internet – full text available here.
“WASHINGTON — If you think China and Iran are where the fight for Internet freedom are centered, you may want to reconsider.
According to Bob Boorstin, Google’s Director of Corporate and Policy Communications, the crucial battles today are elsewhere.
“India is number one,” he said, when I asked which country was at the top of his list. Another is Russia, where he said the problem is the corrupt private individuals who may soon hold the Internet for ransom.
“You may soon be paying large fees to mysterious figures,” he predicted, for Internet access there.
Those countries, along with Indonesia, the Philippines and others described as worrisome, are issuing new laws and regulations that may limit free expression online and free access to information. Boorstin singled out two large, industrialized democracies for special attention.
“It has gone past the critical point in Korea; it gives me nightmares,” he said. “Brazil always worries me because there are a lot of prosecutors trying to make a name for themselves, and foreign companies are an easy target.”
Boorstin described all of these as the countries “in the middle.” He explained those are the countries between the very free – he named the U.S. and the Netherlands – and those at the other extreme, such as China and Iran.
“Which way are they going to go?” he asked. “That’s the question I’m focused on for the moment.”
Ben Scott, Policy Advisor for Innovation in Secretary of State Clinton’s office, was another participant at this morning’s forum sponsored by the Media Access Project. Scott agreed with Boorstin, mostly, but articulated a different set of criteria for the front lines of Internet freedom.
“Countries with rapid growth rates in Internet connectivity will deal with these questions more rapidly,” he said.
According to Scott, some of the most senior, educated people in foreign governments still do not understand the Internet.
“They see it as a problem that needs to be controlled,” said Scott, “not a net benefit to humanity.”
Asked what would drive the major developments on the Internet over the next 12-18 months, Boorstin and Scott both pointed to 3G- and 4G-equipped mobile telephones.
“The key development is smart phones,” said Scott. “More people are connecting to the Internet for the first time, and that will up the stakes. There will be a whole lot more money on the table.” And that money, he predicted, would be “pushing for business opportunities.”
“Whatever we see in the next 12-18 months will be in the mobile sphere,” agreed Boorstin. “Anybody who is looking at what’s next on the Internet will have to look toward the hand-held device and what it will allow people to do in everyday commerce, in organizing for political change, and free expression.”
Boorstin said he had good news, too, pointing to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, which “got the essence of the open Internet right.”"
“PARIS — As a rising tide of digital dissent raises alarms in many capitals around the world, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Tuesday called on member countries to “promote and protect the global free flow of information” online.
The O.E.C.D. , a group of 34 developed countries, urged policy makers to support investment in digital networks and to take a light touch on regulation, saying this was essential for promoting economic growth via the Internet.
“It’s really a milestone in terms of making a statement about openness,” said Karen Kornbluh, the U.S. ambassador to the O.E.C.D. “You can’t really get the innovation you need in terms of creating jobs unless we work together to protect the openness of the Internet.”
The approval of the recommendations by the O.E.C.D. council builds on a communiqué issued at a meeting in June, when the broad outlines of the policy were drawn up. The guidelines are not binding, but are intended to work through the power of persuasion . Also, the Internet recommendations will from now on be included among the criteria for assessing candidates for membership in the O.E.C.D., which is based in Paris.
While the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and other movements have shown the potential of the Internet for organizing political protest, there has also been a backlash, with a number of governments stepping up their efforts to crack down on free speech in the digital sphere.”
More at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/technology/oecd-calls-on-members-to-defend-internet-freedoms.html
“The Global Network Initiative (GNI) welcomes the decision by Congressional leaders to postpone immediate consideration of proposed intellectual property legislation in the Senate and House of Representatives. GNI supports the goal of protecting intellectual property online, but we firmly believe that the approach used in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect-IP (PIPA) is flawed and poses an unacceptable threat to global online freedom of expression and innovation.
We are encouraged by the worldwide outpouring of concern around these issues and urge Congress to adopt an inclusive and transparent approach as it considers how legislation might effectively protect intellectual property and uphold fundamental rights to free expression online. As the U.S. government considers alternative measures, the companies, civil society organizations, investors, and academics that make up GNI collectively recommend a transparent approach that not only includes content and Internet companies, but also civil society organizations and representatives of the users of the Internet.
The interconnected nature of the Internet means that a well-intended but narrow effort to address one set of problems can have serious unintended consequences on the integrity of the Internet and the rights of its users. Crafting effective legislation on technology requires the engagement of diverse stakeholders, especially those with deep understanding of both technical and human rights considerations.
The global implications of U.S. legislation merit particular attention, as laws and policies developed in Washington can serve as precedent or justification for those of other countries, with the potential to undermine the Internet’s capacity as a tool for protecting and advancing fundamental freedoms. With this in mind, we encourage the careful assessment of the global impact of proposed legislative provisions on human rights, especially freedom of expression and privacy.”
Upcoming event from the Media Access Project The Global Internet and the Free Flow of Information:
Please join MAP on Tuesday, February 7th, 9:30 am-12:30 pm at the Pew DC Conference Center for part two of MAP’s fifth annual Forum Series.
The entire series is free and open to the public. Continental breakfast will be available.
Please RSVP to Mera Szendro Bok at email@example.com
Ben Scott, Policy Advisor for Innovation at the Office of the Secretary of State, US Department of State
Bob Boorstin, Director, Corporate and Policy Communications at Google
Cynthia Wong, Director, Project on Global Internet Freedom, Center for Democracy and Technology bio
David Sullivan, Policy and Communications Director, Global Network Initiative bio
Christopher Soghoian, Security and Privacy Researcher bio
Ashkan Soltani, Security and Privacy Researcher bio
Mark MacCarthy, Vice President for Public Policy, Software and Information Industry Association and Adjunct Professor, Communications, Culture and Technology Program, Georgetown University bio
Additional speakers TBA
The Global Internet and the Free Flow of Information:
Events throughout the world have highlighted the role that the Internet plays in influencing the civil engagement, revolutions and the political process. The creation and deployment of free social technologies has reduced the barriers for individuals and groups who create and distribute their own content and those using technologies to organize groups or movements. As a result, some governments see the Internet as a threat to stability and seek to minimize its influence. Others seek to create a domestic Internet environment by placing barriers to content from other countries. Still other countries see their role as facilitating the creation of an unrestrained Internet marketplace of ideas, even as they try to impose restrictions on commercial uses in order to protect trade and intellectual property.
This forum will bring together diplomats, technologists, human rights advocates, and industry to discuss the freedom of expression opportunities and challenges presented to a variety of stakeholders by the Internet and new technologies.
9:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
Freedom of expression threats and challenges that online stakeholders face:
This panel will bring together technologists, diplomats, human rights advocates and industry experts. The panel will focus on the variety of challenges online freedom stakeholders face moving forward in 2012. Relevant issues to be discussed include freedom of expression issues, cyber security issues and surveillance tech issues in the context of how they affect online users free speech rights. Participants will also discuss the future role of innovation on how people will gain access to information.
11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
Protecting online freedoms through effective public policy:
This panel will bring a variety of expert stakeholders together from government, industry and civil society to discuss the public policy forums and issues that are shaping freedom of expression online and internet governance. Currently, there are many discussions and actions being taken by international and public institutions that have the potential to shape the future of the Internet. Issues discussed will include, by whom and how the Internet should be governed, the challenges and importance of a multi-stakeholder approach, the role that network management plays and the creation of Internet Policy Principles.
South America Room
Pew Conference Center
901 E Street Northwest
Washington DC 20004
Twitter hashtag: #MAPForum
This event will not be live streamed, so please plan on attending.