justice scales law
Credit: By James Cridland on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
The International Bar Association has today released a mobile app for capturing and submitting eyewitness media, specifically designed to bring the perpetrators of 'atrocity crimes' to justice.

The eyeWitness app lets users capture images, video or audio before sending a secure version of the file to a central hub to be verified.

"The issue we're trying to address is primarily a verification issue," Wendy Betts, director of the eyeWitness project at the International Bar Association (IBA), told Journalism.co.uk.

"So much ends up on social media without the metadata to authenticate footage, so very little can be done from there."

First and foremost our mandate is for accountabilityWendy Betts, eyeWitness project
Time, date, location, pixel count and device movement data are all among the metadata automatically embedded in media files captured through the app and saved in a "virtual evidence locker" of cloud storage.

This is all stripped out of the image kept on the user's phone after it is uploaded, however, as one of many security features to keep users safe in dangerous situations.

"Part of the reason we've done that is so they don't have a metadata rich image on their device and are not going to upload an image that could give away their location or other data," Betts said.

Other features include a panic-delete button to remove the app entirely; a selection of icons to disguise the app on the homescreen; and a secret upload gallery only accessible using a 'swipecode' on the camera screen, which are all aimed to ensure users' security.

Users can choose to upload footage to social media should they wish, but a secure and verifiable copy is kept only on the eyeWitness project servers.

This feature is potentially at odds with newsrooms, many of which want to report on the events eyeWitness is designed to capture and have been building verification and sourcing of social media content into their workflows in recent years.

"First and foremost our mandate is for accountability," said Betts, "and with these types of atrocity crimes, if we got enough footage to identify that something is going on, [giving footage to] legal authorities may be more appropriate."

We would like to disseminate this to people on the ground who are often the first and only witnessesWendy Betts, eyeWitness project
Perpetrators of war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and torture – the four so-called 'atrocity crimes' under public international law – have traditionally been difficult to prosecute as cases rely on witness testimony and other evidence that can be easily challengeable in court.

By including many guidelines on how users can stay safe and capture the most useful footage, the IBA hopes to change this trend, but will put the interests of the courts above those of news outlets.

The eyeWitness team will work with news organisations if they are approached, however, to confirm the veracity of images or events found on social media, for example, but the media strategy will largely be taken on a case-by-case basis.

"We certainly don't want to be sitting on information that nobody knows about," she said. "Part of accountability is raising awareness and understanding of what is going on."

eyeWitness joins a growing market for verifying footage from eyewitnesses, as the huge amount of content uploaded to social networks purporting to show newsworthy events becomes more and more difficult to manage.

Social newswires like Storyful have become multi-million pound businesses based on skills in finding and verifying news on social media, while last week Verifeye Media launched its own app to help freelance photographers and citizen journalists license footage to news organisations.

"There are so many use cases for this type of technology that it's not possible to have a one-size-fits-all app," Betts said. "I anticipate there are multiple different target audiences and use cases and that we can complement each other in that way."

For now, the app is freely available for Android and has been distributed to journalists, activists and organisations working in areas of the world where human rights abuses are a major concern.

"We would like to disseminate this to people on the ground who are often the first and only witnesses," Betts said. "So give them a tool to increase the impact of what they're already doing."

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