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  • Modern technology is helping the state watch its citizens.

  • But that same technology it also letting citizens watch the state.

  • We know that Facebook is spying on us,

  • we know that Google is spying on us.

  • But those mediums can also become mediums of counter forensics.

  • We are watching the watchers.

  • We are reversing the forensic gaze.

  • The rise of social media and the proliferation of smart phones has made it easier than ever for people to consume news.

  • But not all this information is true.

  • Some governments use these platforms to disseminate propaganda, and monitor citizens behavior.

  • Now this technology has also helped to turn the tables on the powerful.

  • Every comment, every photo, every video, is a clue to ultimately getting at the truth.

  • The big challenge is to figure out how we find all those clues and ultimately use them almost like pieces in a puzzle.

  • Alexa Koenig is a law professor and investigator.

  • She gathers evidence from multiple digital sources, to investigate some of the biggest human rights abuses in the 21st century.

  • So many war crime cases fall apart at fairly early stages of prosecution.

  • One of the big challenges is that prosecutors are over-relying on witness testimony.

  • And of course with time and trauma, a testimony becomes fallible.

  • Miss Koenig's team has helped investigate atrocities in Myanmar, Syria and Yemen.

  • Unlike traditional investigators, her team uses open source evidence.

  • So we brought together people doing big data analytics,

  • satellite imagery, remote sensing, people who were

  • thinking through how cellphones could be harnessed and support the stories of survivors.

  • The team has investigated atrocities in Myanmar in 2017.

  • The evidence proved that the army had used Facebook's

  • wide reach in the country to post false information

  • inciting hatred against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

  • This type of evidence is gaining traction and is being used by the international criminal courts.

  • Open source information that you can find online

  • is increasingly being used by groups like the United Nations

  • and by the International Criminal Court.

  • It released its first ever arrest warrant based on

  • information pulled from social media in Libya.

  • Meanwhile, Bellingcat, a group

  • of open source experts, has been investigating the poisoning

  • of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal

  • and his daughter in 2018.

  • They have made some striking discoveries.

  • Bellingcat disclosed the names of three Russian agents who they allege were involved in the attack,

  • strengthening the suspicion that it was sanctioned by the Russian State.

  • In response, the Russian authorities claimed that

  • the men were tourists, but Bellingcat proved that

  • the three men were high ranking members of the Russian army.

  • One of the agents had even been honored by President Vladimir Putin personally.

  • What Bellingcat did was they began to comb social media

  • and find the profiles of the people

  • who were thought to have been involved,

  • that Russia was saying were just tourists,

  • and ultimately establish the true identities

  • in a way that really shocked the world.

  • Bellingcat cross referenced photo and video

  • evidence released by the British and Russian authorities,

  • with social media to find the men's true identities.

  • This is not the first time the state has been accused of trying to cover its tracks.

  • Governments are trying to release false information about things that have taken place.

  • We need to not only establish what has taken place,

  • but to deconstruct government statements that are misleading.

  • Eyal Weizman is an open source expert based in the UK.

  • The most recent incident which he has investigated

  • raises questions about the death of Palestinians during an Israeli airstrike.

  • In 2018, these two boys were sitting on a roof top.

  • They were killed moments after taking this selfie.

  • The Israeli armed forces said they fired

  • non-lethal warning shots to clear the area of civilians.

  • They call this tactic 'knocking on the roof.

  • Hours later, the Israeli army released a video which appears to show four warning shots, followed by the main strike.

  • But forensic architecture stitched together mobile phone and CCTV footage disputing their claim.

  • They allege the Israeli army did not release a video of the first shots which killed the boys.

  • Instead, it substituted it with a video of the third strike from another angle.

  • The Israeli army denied distorting evidence.

  • Investigating state operations isn't cheap.

  • It takes time and resources.

  • One big question is always where's the money coming from to do this kind of work.

  • There are some individual donors who really believe in the power of technology for social good.

  • And increasingly we still do see some states that are

  • really interested in the power and possibility

  • of pulling together information.

  • The evidence and practices of groups

  • such as Bellingcat and forensic architecture are open to everyone.

  • This evidence is traceable and verifiable.

  • But lawmakers must approach it with caution.

  • The use of this evidence in court is in its infancy and raises several problems.

  • I think so few judges today are trained in ways to really

  • interrogate what makes for a good digital investigation,

  • that there's really a two-fold risk.

  • The first risk is that they're going to look at this very

  • slick sexy package and they're gonna find it so convincing,

  • that they ultimately don't interrogate

  • the underlying bits of information.

  • The second risk, of course, is that they're just going

  • to look at this and say I have no way to understand

  • the original sources of this information,

  • and so they dismiss it out of hand.

  • It is increasingly difficult

  • to separate fact from fiction.

  • But crowdsource investigations offer a new way.

  • Giving a voice to victims and holding the powerful to account.

Modern technology is helping the state watch its citizens.

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Fake news v fact: The battle for truth | The Economist

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    Jerry Liu posted on 2019/04/09
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