Witness presents a Webinar for Namati – How to Use Video to Advance Justice

In November 2016, Kelly Matheson, Senior Attorney and Program Manager for WITNESS, presented a webinar for Namati on Using Video to Advance Justice. The webinar provides a basic introduction to some of the key points about using video as evidence from the Video as Evidence Field Guide as well as some case studies.

You can watch a recording of the webinar on Namati’s YouTube channel here.

During the webinar, Kelly answered some questions about her presentation, but didn’t get time to answer them all. Namati then published a number of further questions from participants and Kelly’s answers, which are reproduced below.

WITNESS Webinar: Using Video to Advance Justice

Common Questions & Answers 

Is there anything different about using videos for campaigns and storytelling versus video for use in legal cases? (Can you share videos you want to use as evidence before you use them in court?)

When you create videos to tell a story or support a campaign, you often will need to edit footage and package it up into clips to suit your goals. When making video for storytelling purposes, the ideas is that the video will be compelling – while still remaining wholly credible – for viewers like the public and key decision makers.

When you are filming for documentation – that is, when you are filming because you hope your video will be used in as part of the justice process and in a court case at some point because it documents wrongdoing – it is really important that the whole video is preserved so the judge can see everything that happened. Video for documentation purposes may not look as exciting as campaign videos, but it is still really important and can help prove things that might otherwise be impossible. Keeping your documentation video in its original format also means that lawyers can decide later how to present it. So you should avoid cutting up the video, or putting it to music or using a voiceover.

Of course, you may end up with video that can be used for both campaigning and evidence.  It is always a good idea to talk to a lawyer if you think it might be useful evidence in court before you share it. Once you share a video, you cannot control how it will be used or who will see it. There may be good reasons to wait, so think carefully before you let other people see your video.

For more information on the differences between video advocacy and video evidence see:  The Role of Video Beyond the Courtroom beginning at page 7 of the Video as Evidence Field Guide that can be downloaded here.

Is it better to only film things you know you need or should you film everything you can?

Interviewing_600x600A good general rule is to try and film as much as you can – you never know what you might capture in your frame that will be useful later. The first question to ask yourself is always: is this safe? If yes, aim to film more of what you need rather than less. Filming for documentation is not about making the most exciting or dramatic video (though you may end up with that!) it is about getting as much as you can in the frame for use later on. Just like if you are interviewing a witness to prepare their testimony in court, you want to try and get the full story and every detail you can, not just the highlights.

For more information how to ensure you film efficiently and capturing relevant information see Collection Planning beginning at page 76 of the Video as Evidence Field Guide that can be downloaded here.

Is there a problem with filming people without their permission?

It depends on a lot of factors, including where you are, the age of the person on camera, the purpose of filming, the security situation and privacy. If you are filming an interview, consent is critical. If you are trying to capture evidence of wrongdoing as it happens, it is a slightly different analysis. Generally, if you are filming events in public, you do not need permission to film. This may change if you are filming events in a private space. There are also specific exceptions. For example, if you are filming police in places like the United States, you have a right to film in most situations and the police cannot tell you to stop. In other countries, you can be arrested for filming police. The best idea is to speak to a lawyer if you can before you start filming and generally use your common sense always keeping the privacy rights of the person/s you are filming in mind as well as security. If you already have the footage and are not sure about the legal situation, try to speak to a lawyer before you share it with anyone.

For more information on informed consent see Part V: More About Informed Consent in the section in filming interviews at page 159 of the Video as Evidence Field Guide that can be downloaded here.

Can anyone submit a video to be used as evidence?

Video from all sorts of sources can be used as evidence. Video evidence used in court has come from journalists, citizen witnesses, even perpetrators and insiders from the other side of a conflict. There is no limit on using video as evidence from any particular kind of source. But if you have not taken the video yourself, you need to think about how you can verify the video, which leads us to our next question…

For more information on the sources of evidence and the purposes video can serve in justice processes see All About Evidence beginning at page 39 of the Video as Evidence Field Guide that can be downloaded here.

How can we distinguish the real record from something that is made up? It is completely possible that people can use the photoshop to produce fake videos.  If someone denies the reliability of a video how can it be given credit?

It is critical to make sure that any video you want to use as evidence is able to be verified – that is, that you can demonstrate it is real rather than fake. Given there are many videos online that are not what they claim to be, this is a really important thing to think about.

There are some basics techniques and tools to help verify videos you may find online or videos that have been sent to you by a source. See for example the section on Verification of Eyewitness Video on this topic.

There are also lots of ways in which investigators can try and piece together information to prove that a video is real. They can use the metadata contained within a video file, which is information about the video that is saved in the file. This can include the time and date of the video and sometimes even the location (even if you have not remembered to switch on the GPS).

One example to consider is a video from a neighborhood in Aleppo which was uploaded onto the internet, showing the aftermath of a recent bombing. Not much information is provided about the video. To verify the video, investigators had to go through a lengthy and detailed process to stitch together a panorama from the footage and geolocate the site of the wreckage using maps and satellite images. So investigators can verify videos using metadata, photos, maps, even shadows. But note, these processes can be time consuming and expensive.

For an excellent case study on how human rights advocates verify video read this example from Amnesty International: Verifying Citizen Video: A Case Study of Destruction from Aleppo: Part 1Part 2Part 3.

This case study reminds us of how important it is to try and make sure video you collect includes as much information as possible, to make the process of verification as easy as it can be. To learn more about how to film so that verification is made much easier see Filming Secure Scenes beginning at page 89 of the Video as Evidence Field Guide here.

The bottom line … the more citizen witnesses know about how to capture footage that can be easily verified, the faster the verification process will be and the better the chances that their videos can help investigators and lawyers bring perpetrators to justice.

Is there a way to protect the forensic data of a video file (metadata?) so that it is less likely to have its authenticity challenged? For example, if there’s a long boring lead up to an event in a video, is it better not to trim that from the file. Or convert the file from a MOV to a MP4?

Protecting the metadata contained within a video file is a really good idea. The general rule is to try to preserve footage in the original format, without cutting or editing, and keep the original file name. Do not rely on online platforms like YouTube as a form of storage, because they can compress the video and strip out key information that may be very useful. You also never know when a platform might disappear.

This takes us to a really important issue to think about: how you plan to store footage that you have taken the time to collect. Ideally before you press record, you need to work how how you are going to transfer files to a hard drive, and make sure you have backup copies. Having a safe place to store your videos is important, especially to protect your footage from being leaked or stolen. You also need to imagine coming back to these files in ten or twenty years time and being able to find what you need.

Witness has a range of guides for archiving video that you can browse through here and if you are committed to building up an archive then The Activists’ Guide to Archiving Video is a must read!

Can audio or video simulations (such as animations) be used to recreate a crime scene when video is not available?  

vae-puzzleQuestion-780x629Yes. This is a rapidly developing field. There are companies now that specialize in creating video simulations for use as evidence in court, though at this point we do not know of any such companies that do this for human rights organizations. It can be a really helpful way to present evidence, as simulations can connect together piece of data and video in a ways that helps a court make sense of it. It is certainly possible to do this, though the steps you take to fill the gaps with simulations will need to be justified to a court. For present purposes, it is worth remembering that footage may be useful even if it doesn’t tell the whole story. There may be ways to string together video and data at some point, so don’t ever delete videos on the basis that they are an incomplete record of what happened!

Can you use video for cases other than cases in the international criminal court?

Yes! Video can be used in all different kinds of courts for all different kinds of purposes. This includes everything from police violence, to environmental cases and asylum claims. Think of video as similar to paper documents or witness testimony – it is another way in which lawyers can piece together a convincing legal case in courts all over the world.

What does the videographer do to ensure his/her personal safety and security?

Safety is the most important thing: before you press record think carefully about how you can protect yourself, the people you are filing and the community you are filming in. We have some resources that can help you think through these questions, which includes advice around filming in teams, having a plan for getting out of a situation and a plan for how to protect your footage after you have collected it. Witness has a range of resources on safety and security, which you can browse here.

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