From the introduction in the Guide:
From online videos of rights violations, to satellite images of environmental degradation, to eyewitness accounts disseminated on social media, we have access to more relevant data today than ever before. When used responsibly, this data can help human rights professionals in the courtroom, when working with governments and journalists, and in documenting historical record.
Acquiring, disseminating and storing digital data is also becoming increasingly affordable. As costs continue to decrease and new platforms are
developed, opportunities for harnessing these data sources for human rights work increase.
But integrating data collection and management into the day to day work of human rights research and documentation can be challenging, even overwhelming, for individuals and organisations. This guide is designed to help you navigate and integrate new data forms into your human rights work.
It is the result of a collaboration between Amnesty International, Benetech, and The Engine Room that began in late 2015. We conducted a series of interviews, community consultations, and surveys to understand whether digital data was being integrated into human rights work. In the vast majority of cases, we found that it wasn’t. Why?
Mainly, human rights researchers appeared to be overwhelmed by the possibilities. In the face of limited resources, not knowing how to get started or whether it would be worthwhile, most people we spoke to refrained from even attempting to strengthen their work with digital data.
To support everyone in the human rights field in navigating this complex environment, we convened a group of 16 researchers and technical experts in a castle outside Berlin, Germany in May 2016 to draft this guide over four days of intense reflection and writing.
There are additional reading resources at: https://engn.it/datnav.
The issue of ethics comes up quickly in human rights research and here the authors write:
Seven things to consider before using digital data for human rights
- Would digital data genuinely help answer your research questions? What are the pros and cons of the particular source or medium? What might you learn from past uses of similar technology?
- What sources are likely to be collecting or capturing the kinds of information you need? What is the context in which it is being produced and used? Will the people or organisations on which your work is focused be receptive to these types of data?
- How easily will new forms of data integrate into your existing workflow? Do you realistically have the time and money to collect, store, analyze and especially to verify this data? Can anyone on your team comfortably support the technology?
- Who owns or controls the data you will be using? Companies, government, or adversaries? How difficult is it to get? Is it a fair or legal collection method? What is the internal stance on this? Do you have true informed consent from individuals?
- How will digital divides and differences in local access to online platforms, computers or phones, affect representation of different populations? Would conclusions based on the data reinforce inequalities, stereotypes or blind spots?
- Are organisational protocols for confidentiality and security in digital communication and data handling sufficiently robust to deal with risks to you, your partners and sources? Are security tools and processes updated frequently enough?
- Do you have safeguards in place to prevent and deal with any secondary trauma from viewing digital content that you or your partners may experience at personal and organisational levels?
Before I reveal my #0 consideration, consider the following story as setting the background.
At a death penalty seminar (certainly a violation of human rights), a practitioner reported a case where the prosecuting attorney said a particular murder case was a question of “good versus evil.” In the course of preparing for that case, it was discovered that while teaching a course for paralegals, the prosecuting attorney had a sexual affair with one of his students. Affidavits were obtained, etc., and a motion was filed in the pending criminal case entitled: Motion To Define Good and Evil.
There was a mix of opinions on whether blind-siding the prosecuting attorney with his personal failings, with the fallout for his family, was a legitimate approach?
My question was: Did they consider asking the prosecuting attorney to take the death penalty off the table, in exchange for not filing the Motion To Define Good and Evil? A question of effective use of the information and not about the legitimacy of using it.
For human rights violations, my #0 Question would be:
0. Can the information be used to stop and/or redress human rights violations without harming known human rights victims?
The other seven questions, like “…all deliberate speed…,” are a game played by non-victims.