By Andrew Garton
An impossible to imagine number people and plenty of utilities, it seems, are doing video. Children, teachers, sports professionals, activists, workers and the unemployed, radio and print journalists, the police, military and security firms are all swinging cameras some where on planet earth. In many countries now we are videoed in trains, elevators, in our cars in traffic, from the skies and even from space!
Video has become, as WITNESS’s Sam Gregory describes, spreadable, mailable and accessible by more means than ever. It has become, in less than half a decade, ubiquitous. It’s portable, potent and powerful. Hollywood and the largest media corporations in the world, Disney and News Limited, no longer command the public’s total attention at the screen. No country and no individual is immune from the lens.
Police officers in Washington video protesters, April 11, 2011
(Photo by Andrew Bossi,CC BY-NC-SA)
In contexts where internet security issues are either unknown or are not taken seriously, where more and more people are using video to document abuses and record first-hand testimonials, and where Facebook has become the internet for millions of citizens, the means to both securely publish and access video in and from Indonesia is more critical than ever.
Along with the opportunities afforded by new technologies, there too are the threats. Creators of social justice video, for instance, can be located if they use an internet cafe and are not aware of how easily their location can be traced. The video they carry on USB sticks can be read on any computer and the people they capture on video may not be aware that they could be seen by thousands of people, all over the world, including the perpetrators of the injustices they may describe or have been subjected to. Anonymity and consent are little understood in Indonesia.
People have a right to free expression, but they too ought to have the right to anonymity should they wish it. Being seen and heard is one thing, being recognised and literally hunted down is another. It happens. Israeli authorities used Facebook to gather names of pro-Palestinian protesters and had them black-listed to prevent them traveling to Isreal1. Iran’s authorities scrutinised mobile phone footage on Youtube to identify demonstrators whom they later arrested along with passers-by who just happened to be in shot2. Iranians are also using crowd sourcing, a common social networking technique, encouraging the general public to identify alleged protesters in photos and video found on the web3. A more recent initiative has seen the general public swarm to Tumblr and Facebook offering their videos and photos of the hockey riots in Vancouver that raises serious questions about “name and shaming” and whether this constitutes “vigilantism or community policing4.”
In addition to these ethical issues, many of which are being tackled through international forums and public discussion at every conceivable opportunity, there are immediate concerns regarding the day to day practice of video activists. For example, video files can be large and they can take time to upload. Getting them to a server from an internet cafe in Aceh, for example, can pose problems, particularly if connections are not secure, or more commonly, slow and costly. People need to be prepared, they need time and they need to be anonymous. Additionally, once online how secure and / or reliable is the site one publishes to? Youtube looks like a public space, but it isn’t. Facebook encourages openness and sharing, but why does Julian Assange describe it as “the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented5?”
As more video is produced and as more people, from all sectors of society use what ever means available to them hold up their cameras and send their images across networks and devices the means to do so ethically and securely needs to be both understood and readily available. The Secure My Video Guide contributes to this pool of knowledge and resources.
Gregory, S. (May 2011), Watch: Cameras Everywhere – Presentation at Re:Publica 2011^
Gruszko, M. WITNESS Blog (July 2011), Crowd-Sourcing Surveillance: When Does Little Brother Get Too Big?^