Some basics on planning ahead to create videos that take into account security issues for yourself, your organisation, and the people appearing in your video.
The first questions when assessing risks are:
- What kind of retaliation might you or others face? Is the risk worth it?
- Could the methods you use backfire and prevent you from attaining your advocacy goals?
- Is it both safe and useful to record this video with these people at this time?
- Is it both safe and useful to share this video with these people at this time?
- Is everyone involved aware of all the risks they run? What kind of consent process and written approvals will you need to go through with people before you film them?
- What further research do you need to do on the security risks for people appearing in the film according to whether it is shown locally, regionally or internationally?
- What permissions will you need for filming in the various locations?
- Is video the best way to obtain and share the information you need (rather than audio, text etc.)?
Preparations for filming in any potentially hostile environments should include a risk assessment. Hazards can occur during filming, during distribution or at a later date, and include:
- Threats or violence against anyone involved.
- Being discovered filming covertly or without official permission.
- Detention/arrest/kidnap of people filming, being filmed or transporting footage.
- Failure of security arrangements intended to protect information and material.
- People failing to realise the risks they may face when they give consent, or failing to take precautions thereafter.
- Make sure you have careful, skilful people involved in planning, research and filming.
- Establish clear protocols for consent (see the next section).
- Use suitable, discreet equipment if necessary.
- Pay attention to personal and information security.
- Make communication arrangements for before, during and after filming.
- Make emergency arrangements for yourself and the people you film, both during and after the filming.
- Have a clear exit strategy.
Where possible, video makers should ensure that all the people they are filming have given free, prior, informed consent to becoming involved in a film.
A human rights or social justice filmmaker should consider three levels of permission and consent: written, on-camera and informed consent.
A written consent form is similar to the legal paperwork that TV channels require, but with limited legal standing. These ‘release forms’ may be difficult to understand for people with limited literacy or exposure to the kind of language they are written in.
With on-camera consent, the person to be filmed is actually filmed hearing the full explanation of their part in the project, and giving their name and clear consent on camera, though this footage is generally not used in the final piece.
Informed consent is possible only when the subject understands the possible risks and benefits of being on camera, and makes a choice to be there, while stipulating what is or is not an acceptable level of risk. Such stipulations may include the possibility of the subject withdrawing permission to use the footage if the level of risk increases in the future. Usually the discussion of risks and benefits, and the process of informed consent, happen off-camera.
Sometimes people are willing to appear in a video only if they can’t be recognised. The identity of people on film can be deduced in a number of ways, not all of which are equally obvious:
- Their face is visible
- Their name is provided in the dialogue or on-screen
- Their clothing is distinctive
- Their voice is recognisable
- They refer to places, locations or people who are identifiable and specific
- They are seen in the company of people who can be identified
You can hide the identity of a subject either while you are filming or during the editing process.
During the editing process your options are:
- Using a digitised effect over the whole face or other identifying marks, or placing a digital bar over the eyes only.
- Obscuring identifying marks in the foreground, in the background or on the interviewee (for example, a logo on a shirt).
- Using sound edits to remove names of people and places.
- Distorting voices to make them less identifiable.
- Using only an audio track.
- Not showing faces or any features that can be recognised, for example big hair, but using other shots, of hands or of a non-identifiable interview location (sometimes with the interviewee seen in extreme long shot), alongside the audio track of the interview.
In general you have more options if you shoot footage in the field without compromising the image, and then alter the image in the editing room (if you are going to be editing). However, security should always be your main concern. If there is a serious possibility that your original material may be confiscated either during transport from the filming site or from an archived location, then it is a good idea to conceal the identities of your subjects as you film them, and it may be unwise to have subjects identify themselves on camera, either for the purposes of consent or for the final cut of the video.
Some ideas to help you conceal someone’s identity during filming:
- Ask the person not to mention specific names or places.
- Ask them not to wear distinctive clothes.
- Use strong back lighting to turn the person’s image into a silhouette, with them either facing the camera or in profile.
- Purposely make the footage out of focus so that the person’s face cannot be recognised.
- Don’t light the person’s face.
- Film their hands or another part of their body rather than their face.
- Film from behind them so that their face is not visible.
- Film them with a cap shading their eyes (eyes are the most recognisable part of a face).
Safe handling of video tapes
- Know where all your copies are, and label them with clear instructions in case they go missing.
- Destroy rough cuts of videos where identities are discernible.
- Ensure public scripts do not reference identities.
- Keep written records and logs separate from tapes to protect identities.
- Label clearly how footage can be used; for example, only as evidence or for private screenings.
- Make back-up copies of important material and store them in a secure location (ideally a temperature-controlled archive).
Responsible treatment of video footage
- Maintain clear communication with those involved.
- Honour any commitments made during filming.
- Edit ethically – avoid ‘guilt by association’.
- Remember the power and the dangers of contrast, juxtaposition and compression.
- Avoid emotional manipulation and over-dramatisation.
- Acknowledge the impact of violent imagery.
- Respect the audience, field and facts.
- Consider the impact of distribution on the people who film or are filmed.
- Be aware ofsecondary trauma issues.
Not all video is appropriate to show to all audiences all of the time. If a video features extreme violence, humiliation or other disturbing material, consider providing a warning to viewers before they can access it. It may be more suitable to keep such material for use as evidence in a court case than to release it freely into the public domain.
Try to think about the various people who may see this video, and what uses they could make of it; for example, might security forces identify individuals for arrest or repression? Might one ethnic group use the video to misrepresent the actions of another for the purposes of fomenting inter-ethnic strife? If someone is being victimised in the video, might replaying it on screen turn them into a victim again?
Possible Questions for On-Camera Consent:
On-camera consent can include answers to the following questions:
For more information about security and mobile phones, look at:
The Digital Security section of the Tactical Technology Collective Resources
For information about keeping your digital information secure, look at Security in-a-box
Meet journalists, filmmakers, and human rights defenders who work undercover, in war zones and in threatening environments both at home and abroad, in WITNESS’s useful text on Safety and Security in video making
Watch the ‘Tips for Filming’ video from WITNESS