Effective & safe collaborative documentation and information sharing

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Effective & safe collaborative documentation and information sharing
New technologies are making it easier for users to collaborate in the documentation process and to share information with colleagues (and the public). How are these technologies being applied to human rights documentation? How can practitioners collaborate and share information safely?

Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.

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How do we bring citizen witnesses and citizen activists in?

One issue that I'm interested in getting feedback from fellow practitioners on is how we better integrate citizen witnesses and citizen activists, as well as others who are not professionals but may be 'first on the scene' or provide a range and wealth of material, into the documentation workflows that exist for human rights and international criminal justice processes. They're unlikely to use the dedicated tools we have (either because they don't know about them, or because training is missing on using them), as well as have a more limited understanding of human rights classifications, and they face at least a significant proportion of the security risks that ongoing HRDs face.

We've just launched a form that people are using in the context of street protests in Brazil to better gather video footage that might be useful in proactive prosecutions of police officers and others implicated in violence: https://docs.google.com/a/witness.org/forms/d/17bbwhU23UxVjeUrwXaWUbk8qC..., and more info here. But we'd also like to think about this applies in contexts of mass atrocity documentation such as Syria, Myanmar etc and how we best develop heuristics, workflows and principles (rather than tech) that can help bridge between citizen participation and documentation and more formalized flows.




Sam, thanks so much for these great points - I just posted a comment to an earlier thread asking if there were organizations working with citizen journalists on these issues! It is great to hear Witnesses is taking the initiative here.

I posed a related question in our hangout on Tuesday, asking whether it would be most effective to frame issues of security in terms of the technology or in terms of the activity, in order to get greater uptake by non-professionals who engage in documentation on a more informal basis. One response to this question (either Carolina or Daniel) was that intermediaries might play a role in filtering and protecting data. I think awareness raising is critical, but do you also see a role for intermediaries? Should we be worried about relying too much on them?

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I think the role of

I think the role of intermediaries is critical - both in terms of filtering information and making it more accessible/relevant to human rights usages that requires more structured or verified data; as well as in terms of proection. Alongside that I think we need to think about how they support and educate 'first-responder' documentors on what is relevant/important to document, and how to protect themselves (again, probably not on a technology level, but on a practices/principles level)

Need vrs security

Share sensitive information that is happening at the moment but:It is happening in a rural area where:

  • No electricity,
  • No internet or computer

It is necessary that in the central area, or in the capital have the information they to make decisionsExample, occurs during the process of voting in elections.What has been observed:

  • On the one hand the use of cell phones to transfer the information in coded form, ie, that whoever it does so using transmitted codes.
  • This is also seen in the documents of the extinct National Police, when using the FM radio frequency to transfer sensitive information in encrypted form, which in other cases using domestic mail sent through telegrams.

In both cases, the alternative would have today, we are in a different situation, especially when it comes to, information sharing that is occurring at the moment but does not have the appropriate resources to consider data security as a priority.


Using mobile phones securely

Thanks for sharing this, Carolina!  Indeed, we need to keep in mind that many human rights defenders do not have reliable access to the internet or a computer, and sometimes they don't have electricy. What is the best way to share information during these times? I hope that others share their ideas here.

Thanks for mentioning the use of cell phones. In our Google Hangout today, we talked about how human rights defenders are often sharing sensitive information that needs to be shared right away, and that often people use the tools that they are familiar with, that is easy, and that is available. So it makes a lot of sense that many people would use cell phones to transfer information and it's important that we explore the risks and opportunities that go along with this.

You mentioned that that during election monitoring in Guatemala, practitioners used cell phones to transfer information from the polling stations to the "headquarters" (I assume via text message or phone calls) and then the person at HQ compiles that information. But the key to information security is the use of codes to represent the information. This way, even if the information is intercepted by adversaries, the message is confusing or simply not understandable by someone who doesn't know how to decrypt the information. You don't need pgp to encrypt information!

I wnated to share a few other resources for those of you interested to learn more using mobile phones securely:

How are others using mobile phones to share human rights information securely?

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

How, why & w/ whom are human rights groups sharing information?

One recommendation that came out of our Google Hangout today is to explore how, why, and with whom are human rights groups are sharing information.


  • Preservation?
  • Legal proceedings?
  • Transitional justice? (truth and reconciliation processes, etc)
  • Advocacy and raising awareness?


  • Paper?
  • Mobile phones? (text messaging? smart phone applications?)
  • Human rights documetation tools?
  • Google docs?
  • Social media?
  • Email?

With whom:

  • Colleagues?
  • Other organizations?
  • Legal institutions?
  • Journalists?
  • Regional, national or international experts?

Please share your experiences and knowledge on these questions by replying to this comment below!

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Recording of our Friday Google Hangout

Thanks for participating in this Hangout today! Many great examples, questions, concerns were raised. Looking forward to exploring it further here in the discussion forum!

In case the video doesn't load in your browser, you can watch the video here.

Thank you for participating in this conversation!

Thank you so much for participating in this conversation on Working Safely and Effectively with Documentation Tools! It has been an informative exchange and I really appreciate the time and thought you put into each of your comments. I especially want to thank Daniel and Enrique for helping me in coordinating this discussion and making it a success. I also want to thank our conversation leaders who participated in this discussion: Yvonne, Molly, Chris, Friedhelm, Neil, Janvier, Travis, Dmitri and Carolina.

I hope you found it helpful to: reflect on why security is important to human rights documentation efforts, explore the wide range of situations in which human rights documentation is collected and managed, share tools available for human rights documentarians, and discuss ways to make the whole process more secure - including collaborative documentation and information sharing.  I hope you all are taking away new ideas, resources, reflections and allies!

We will write a summary of the comments posted here. It will most likely take a few weeks and once we're finished, we'll post the summary on the front page of this conversation. For those of you that added comments, I'll notify you by email when the summary is posted.

The conversation leaderswere committed to participate in this discussion from June 9 to 13. Although that commitment has come to end, you can still add comments until the summary is posted. So please feel free to continue to add your thoughts, reflections, resources and stories!

And finally, we'd appreciate your feedback on whether or not this experience has been helpful to you! Please take a moment to fill out this short survey to help us better understand the impact of these conversations.

I hope to see you in our upcoming discussions on our theme Seeking Justice, which include:

  • July 21 to 25: Using Video for Documentation and Evidence - This online discussion is an opportunity for practitioners of law, technology and human rights to share their experiences, challenges, tools and ideas to help increase the chances that the footage citizens and activists often risk their lives to capture can do more than expose injustice – it can also serve as evidence in the criminal and civil justice processes.
  • August: To be determined
  • September: Expanding Access to Justice for Youth (dates and description coming soon)

Thank you!

Kristin Antin - New Tactics Online Community Builder


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