The Human Rights Center spearheaded a collaborative effort in partnership with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to develop an international protocol outlining the minimum professional standards for the identification, collection, preservation, verification, and analysis of digital open source information, with an aim toward improving its effective use in international criminal, humanitarian and human rights investigations. Strengthening legal and ethical norms for open source investigations professionalizes the field and, in doing so, increases the likelihood that such information will be useful for justice and accountability purposes. Currently, the Berkeley Protocol is being translated into all the languages of the United Nations for global impact.
The Berkeley Protocol is actively in use by Ukranian prosecutors documenting Russian war crimes, and was translated informally into Ukrainian within weeks of the invasion. We are developing a practical guide to implementing the Protocol for lawyers and judges in partnership with Essex University, WITNESS, Human Rights Watch, and Mnemonic to further assist legal practitioners in the pursuit of justice. The Protocol is also the foundation of our Professional Training Program.
Former U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner
The process of developing the Berkeley Protocol was similar to our past efforts to develop blueprints around investigating torture (the Istanbul Protocol), extrajudicial executions (the Minnesota Protocol), and sexual violence in conflict (International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict). These past initiatives were essential steps to help lawyers and judges better understand how to evaluate new investigative techniques, and guide first responders and civil society groups on how to collect information in a manner consistent with legal requirements. The Berkeley Protocol was launched in English on December 1, 2020, in a virtual event on the 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials.
The Protocol was developed after years of internal collaboration with the international human rights community. Some of the forums where the foundations of the Protocol were set include:
September 7, 2023
HRC in the News — WIRED: The International Criminal Court Will Now Prosecute Cyberwar Crimes, interviewing Lindsay Freeman and citing HRC’s second Article 15 submission to the
February 21, 2023
HRC in the News — Berkeley News: In Ukraine, Berkeley experts are shaping the legal fight against war crimes, feature on the Berkeley Protocol’s application in Ukraine.
April 14, 2022
HRC in the News — Lawfare: Bringing Evidence of War Crimes from Twitter to the Hague, featuring Alexa Koenig.
November 9, 2022
HRC in the News — Asahi Shimbun Global: OSINT used to collect evidence of war crimes, quoting Alexa Koenig about digital open source investigations and referencing the Berkeley Protocol.
October 31, 2022
HRC in the News — Washington Lawyer magazine: Crowdsourcing Digital War Crimes Evidence, Alexa Koenig quoted on digital evidence preservation and the establishment of the Berkeley Protocol on
April 18, 2022
HRC in the News — TIME Magazine: How Ukraine Is Crowdsourcing Digital Evidence of War Crimes, referencing the Berkeley Protocol. Left: A Ukrainian soldier speaks on his smartphone outside
May 12, 2022
HRC in the News — WIRED: The Case for War Crimes Charges Against Russia’s Sandworm Hackers, featuring Lindsay Freeman and her team’s research and submission to the International
May 15, 2022
HRC in the News — 60 Minutes: The online investigators tracking alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, Alexa Koenig spoke about the use of open source intelligence (OSINT) tools by civilian
March 23, 2022
HRC in the News — The Washington Post: Rise of the Twitter Spies, referencing the Berkeley Protocol. Washington Post illustration/istock
January 26, 2021
HRC in the News — OpinioJuris: Open-Source Digital Evidence in International Criminal Cases: A Way Forward in Ensuring Accountability for Core Crimes? by Konstantina Stavrou, with mention of
December 1, 2020
Berkeley Law: Berkeley Law Center Creates First Global Protocol on Using Social Media as Evidence for War Crimes, reporting on the Berkeley Protocol on Digital Open Source Investigations.