Digital Witness: Using Open Source Information for Human Rights Investigation, Documentation and Accountability

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Sam Dubberley, Alexa Koenig, Daragh Murray, Lindsay Freeman, Christoph Koettl, Ella McPherson, Isabel Guenette Thornton, Matt Mahmoudi, Scott Edwards, Paul Myers, Yvonne Ng, Jeff Deutsch, Niko Para, Aric Toler, Micah Farfour, Zara Rahman, Gabriela Ivens, Margaret Satterthwaite, Sarah Knuckey, Adam Brown, Joseph Guay, Lisa Rudnick, Fred Abrahams
Publication Date
December 19, 2019
Publication Type
Conflict, International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law, Investigations Program, Technology, Technology, Law, & Policy Program


From videos of rights violations, to satellite images of environmental degradation, to eyewitness accounts disseminated on social media, human rights practitioners have access to more data today than ever before. To say that mobile technologies, social media, and increased connectivity are having a significant impact on human rights practice would be an understatement. Modern technology – and the enhanced access it provides to information about abuse – has the potential to revolutionise human rights reporting and documentation, as well as the pursuit of legal accountability. However, these new methods for information gathering and dissemination have also created significant challenges for investigators and researchers. For example, videos and photographs depicting alleged human rights violations or war crimes are often captured on the mobile phones of victims or political sympathisers. The capture and dissemination of content often happens haphazardly, and for a variety of motivations, including raising awareness of the plight of those who have been most affected, or for advocacy purposes with the goal of mobilising international public opinion. For this content to be of use to investigators it must be discovered, verified, and authenticated. Discovery, verification, and authentication have, therefore, become critical skills for human rights organisations and human rights lawyers. This book is the first to cover the history, ethics, methods, and best-practice associated with open source research. It is intended to equip the next generation of lawyers, journalists, sociologists, data scientists, other human rights activists, and researchers with the cutting-edge skills needed to work in an increasingly digitized, and information-saturated environment.

Table of Contents:


ForewordAryeh Neier

Section One
Introduction, Sam Dubberley, Alexa Koenig, Daragh Murray
1. The History of the Use of Open Source Investigation for Human Rights Reporting, Christoph Koettl, Daragh Murray, Sam Dubberley
2. The History of Open Source Investigations for Legal Accountability, Alexa Koenig
3. Prosecuting Grave International Crimes Using Open Source Evidence: Lessons from the International Criminal Court, Lindsay Freeman
4. Open Source Investigations and the Technology-Driven Knowledge Controversy in Human Rights Fact-Finding, Ella McPherson, Isabel Guenette Thornton, Matt Mahmoudi
5. Open Source Investigations for Human Rights: Current and Future Challenges, Scott Edwards

Section Two
6. How to Conduct Discovery Using Open Source Methods, Paul Myers
7. How to Effectively Preserve Open Source Information, Yvonne Ng
8. Targeted Mass Archiving of Open Source Information: A Case Study, Jeff Deutsch and Niko Para
9. How to Verify User-Generated Content, Aric Toler
10. The Role and Use of Satellite Imagery in Open Source Investigations, Micah Farfour

Section Three
11. Ethics in Open Source Investigations, Zara Rahman and Gabriela Ivens
12. Open Source Investigations: Vicarious Trauma, PTSD, and Tactics for Resilience, Sam Dubberley, Margaret Satterthwaite, Sarah Knuckey, Adam Brown
13. Open Source Investigations: Understanding Digital Threats, Risks, and Harms, Joseph Guay, Lisa Rudnick

Section Four
14. Open Source Information: Part of the Puzzle, Fred Abrahams, Daragh Murray
15. Open Source Investigations for Legal Accountability: Challenges and Best Practices, Alexa Koenig, Lindsay Freeman