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Berkeley Protocol on Digital Open Source Investigations

Investigations Technology, Law & Policy

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.

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“Technology can help us see the distant, the obscured, and the unimaginable — and serve as concrete proof of violations of human rights and international law. In an era of widespread misinformation and disinformation, the Protocol gains even more importance. This new tool is, ultimately, about protecting human rights and advancing justice.”

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Michelle Bachelet

Former U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner

A Global Standard

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.

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UN OHCHR logo

A Joint Partnership

The Berkeley Protocol on Digital Open Source Investigations is a joint publication with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights

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:

  • Roundtable to Explore Legal Issues Arising from Open Source Investigations in The Hague, Netherlands, April 12, 2019
  • Workshop on Cybersecurity in Online Open Source Investigations at UC Berkeley,  May 6–7, 2019
  • RightsCon Strategic Roundtable in Tunis, Tunisia, June 11–14, 2019
  • Workshop on Building an Ethical Framework for Open Source Investigation in Essex University, United Kingdom, January 28–29, 2019
  • The New Forensics: Using Open Source Information to Investigate Grave Crimes at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy, October 2–6, 2017

News

The Hague's Lead Prosecutor Says He'll Now Charge Cyberwar Crimes.

September 7, 2023

The International Criminal Court Will Now Prosecute Cyberwar Crimes

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

Russian troops may have committed mass killings of civilians after their invasion in Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital, In Bucha. Photo by Raphael Lafargue for AP/Sipa.

February 21, 2023

In Ukraine, Berkeley experts are shaping the legal fight against war crimes

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.

Arbiters of Truth Podcast

April 14, 2022

Bringing Evidence of War Crimes from Twitter to the Hague

HRC in the News — Lawfare: Bringing Evidence of War Crimes from Twitter to the Hague, featuring Alexa Koenig.

Bucha, Ukraine, suspected of massacring civilians by Russian forces. Ukrainian investigative authorities are proceeding with the prosecution of war crimes in April (Photo by Tetsuro Takehana).

November 9, 2022

OSINT used to collect evidence of war crimes

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.

A Ukrainian soldier on a video call shows a bombed-out residential building in Kyiv days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Getty Images/Pierre Crom.

October 31, 2022

Crowdsourcing Digital War Crimes Evidence

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

A Ukrainian soldier speaks on his smartphone outside a residential building damaged by a missile in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 25, 2022.Pierre Crom—Getty Images

April 18, 2022

How Ukraine Is Crowdsourcing Digital Evidence of War Crimes

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

Photo by ALEXANDER NEMENOV/GETTY IMAGES

May 12, 2022

The Case for War Crimes Charges Against Russia’s Sandworm Hackers

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

ALexa Koenig on 60 Minutes

May 15, 2022

The online investigators tracking alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine

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

Washington Post illustration/istock

March 23, 2022

Rise of the Twitter Spies

HRC in the News — The Washington Post: Rise of the Twitter Spies, referencing the Berkeley Protocol. Washington Post illustration/istock

Scale of Justice

January 26, 2021

Open-Source Digital Evidence in International Criminal Cases: A Way Forward in Ensuring Accountability for Core Crimes?

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

A black and white image of people in a courtroom using headsets for translation.

December 1, 2020

Berkeley Law Center Creates First Global Protocol on Using Social Media as Evidence for War Crimes

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.