The Documentalist

Interesting NPR Series: The End of Privacy

Posted in Editorial by Sarah on October 30, 2009

Image courtesy of

This week, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered has been airing a series called  “The End of Privacy.” The articles call attention to the fact that social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace),  email and web crawling services (e.g., Gmail/Google or Yahoo!), and even cell phone services harvest, store and act upon a large amount of personal and identifying information gathered from users.    The journalists for these pieces investigate the legal and economic ramifications surrounding the use of personal data in Web applications in general, however, listening to these articles raises important questions for human rights in particular.  Specifically, if activists are going to use these platforms to rapidly distribute materials and mobilize actions, they need to be aware of the fact that they are not necessarily working anonymously, though they may assume that they are.

As reflected in several posts on this blog, the use of social media is changing the face of human rights activism and thus causing NGOs and archivists alike to seek means of capturing and preserving the fleeting, transient, and ephemeral information that flies across the Web at the speed of rapidly typing fingers.  One of the challenges that immediately rises to the surface in this is protecting the privacy and safety of victims, witnesses, and even activists from further injury by oppressive regimes–a problem that becomes further complicated if we recognize that Web applications are capturing detailed personal information that repressive regimes can access and use against the people who post the materials.  Of course, the problem of privacy and safety is not new to human rights–as Valerie Love at the University of Connecticut observes in a recent post to the WITNESS Media Archive:

In recent years, archival institutions and organizations have become increasingly concerned with issues regarding human rights records and archival collections. Questions of access, privacy, politics, trust, and ensuring the safety of those documenting abuses and potentially controversial records all impact archivists working with human rights collections.

This observation applies to the content of documents and how they can impact the individuals represented withint them, but when we extend the situation to the web, these privacy issues become even  more complicated–and not only for the privacy issues related to using the web described above.  As people increasingly use the Web to post video and images of events and abuses they witness, the anonymity of the people captured in those materials is  compromised; unfortunately, well-meaning witnesses  post materials to the web that can help governments identify individuals involved in human rights protests, for example, and repressive regimes take advantage of those images to identify and arrest the represented individuals.  Add to that that the person who posts may not know that they can be tracked through their Web use and we find yet another person potentially at risk.  One thing that NPR’s “The End of Privacy” series makes clear is that users need to be aware that they are increasingly vulnerable to extensive data harvesting–data that can  identify specific users, their preferences and activities, and even their physical location–and take measures to try to protect their anonymity.


Valerie Love for WITNESS Media Archive: Call for Human Rights Roundtable in SAA

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on October 29, 2009

As posted earlier this month, WITNESS archivist Grace Lile  is honoring Archives Month by dedicating October’s blog posts to the WITNESS Media Archive to  human rights archiving.  Today’s entry was submitted by Valerie Love (the Curator for Human Rights and Alternative Press Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut) and calls attention to the fact that there is as yet no established organization for collaboration between human rights archivists and human rights field workers focusing on issues of documentation–an issue that CRL also seeks to address through the Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study.  As a step toward addressing this lack, Valerie and T-Kay Sangwand (the Human Rights Archivist for the University of Texas Libraries-Austin) have drafted a petition for establishing a Human Rights Roundtable within the Society of American Archivists.   As Valerie notes:

…despite the proliferation of conferences and online information sites regarding human rights archives, there is not yet a space or group [dedicated to human rights] within the largest archival organization in the United States. T-Kay Sangwand of the University of Texas and I are currently petitioning to create a human rights roundtable within the Society of American Archivists (SAA). Informal gatherings of archivists concerned with human rights issues occurred at the SAA meeting in San Francisco in 2008 and at Austin in 2009, but the creation of a official roundtable would formalize current efforts to collaborate and share information on archives and human rights in the United States.

Please read the full post at the WITNESS Media Archive to learn more about this effort and its importance to human rights archiving and field work.  If your are interested in learning more about this effort, please contact Valerie at

Chiapas Media Project Video Collection

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on October 28, 2009


The Chiapas Media Project (CMP) is a media activism group founded twelve years ago to supply media equipment and training to indigenous groups in southern Mexico so that they can document  and raise consciousness of the realities of their lives in a region that has experienced continuous political and social repression stemming from the Aguas Blancas massacre of 17 indigenous farmers on June 28, 1995 .  CMP forms a bi-national partnership with Promedios de Comunicacion Comunitaria, located in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas–an organization that provides local communities with access to equipment for editing and producing documentary films for local media distribution, and for sale as a means of supporting their mission.  As stated on the Chiapas Media Project homepage:

For many people who live in the developed world use of video cameras, VCR’s, TV’s, and computers is a daily occurrence. But when one speaks with indigenous peoples about access to this technology they say it is only a dream. For centuries outsiders have represented indigenous people and their cultures. Recently there has been an effort to get new communication technology into the hands of indigenous people so that they can represent themselves, with their own words and images. This is what the Chiapas Media Project (CMP)/Promedios is attempting to do in Southern Mexico.

For an example of the documentary materials they produce, see “Eye’s on What’s Inside: The Militarization of Gerrero,” on YouTube.  This 35 minute film provides a glimpse into the poor, subsistence agricultural lives of the Ma Phee of Barranca, Guerrero, as well as the challenges they face related to the constant presence of the Mexican military in their communities.  The purported purpose of the military is to monitor the area for narcotrafficing and the illegal production of marijuana and poppies for heroine (crops that some of these desperately poor farmers do produce), but the locals argue that the military’s real purpose is to suppress social resistance that call for equal treatment under the law.  The film contains footage of military personnel harassing citizens at a road-side check point, as well as documentary testimony from two local women who were sexually assaulted by members of the military, but are unable to take their cases to court.

The Chiapas Media Project has produced approximately 30 documentary films for sale as DVDs through their office in Chicago–see their on-line catalog for a full listing. Pricing is available for individual or institutional/library sale.  Several of the documentaries are entirely produced by community members, while the rest are the result of close collaborations between local human rights organizations and local community members.  Funds from purchases go to supporting local media activism efforts in southern Mexico.

Capturing & Archiving Web Pages: UT-Austin Library’s Web Clipper

Posted in Archiving Solutions, Reports, technology by Sarah on October 23, 2009

The following was co-authored with Kevin Wood at the University of Texas Libraries at Austin.  The post describes a promising experimental archiving strategy that the UT Libraries is developing for harvesting and preserving primary resources from the Web.  Special thanks to Kevin for contributing his expertise and time by co-authoring this post.


University of Texas Libraries-Austin’s Web Clipper Project for Human Rights

Developer: Kevin Wood

Example of a Web page clipped from the web for achiving as a primary resource.  Image courtesy of Kevin Wood, University of Texas Libraries-Austin

Example of a Web page clipped from the web for archiving as a primary resource. Image: Kevin Wood, University of Texas Libraries-Austin


In July of 2008, the University of Texas Libraries received a grant from the Bridgeway Foundation to support efforts to collect and preserve fragile records (records that are at risk of destruction either from environmental conditions or human activity) of human rights conflicts and genocide.  These funds are helping the library to develop new means for collecting and cataloguing “fragile or transient Web sites of human rights advocacy and genocide watch;” sites that are important because the internet has become a primary means for distributing both information and misinformation about human rights abuses and for documenting human rights events.  Thus these fragile Web sites become valuable primary resources for survivors, scholars, and activists as they pursue their work in human rights (see the library’s grant announcement for a press release on the grant).

Harvesting Web Sites for Archiving

In their first attempt to establish a reliable means for harvesting Web sites for preservation, archivists at the University of Texas Libraries used Zotero, a free Firefox extension that allows users to collect, manage and cite online resources for research.  The program allows users to capture copies of webpages and catalog them in a bibliographic program that functions much like End Note or Book Ends. Archivists at the University of Texas planned to use the program to pull specific documentation of human rights events off of the internet and then submit the collected pages to their institutional repository for cataloging and preservation.  However, Zotero wound up not meeting their needs. Zotero is geared toward individual work from a desktop, therefore, when it harvests a page, it changes links to be relative to the individual’s desktop rather than saving the original links as they are built into the webpage of interest—in terms of archiving and preservation, this is problematic because it calls into question the authenticity of the captured pages.  Zotero can be made to keep the original links, but it was not originally designed to do so, so this becomes a cumbersome process and as Zotero continues to evolve in the direction of meeting the needs of individual users, this work-around process becomes that much more difficult to maintain.

The solution for this problem is the in-house creation of a custom web clipper program that harvests pages without modifying them. It functions as a Firefox plug-in and was built from the bottom up borrowing heavily from open source programs that already have some of the right functionality for the libraries’ human rights archiving needs.  The designer wants to keep the coding footprint of the web clipper as small as possible to minimize the deployment and maintenance burden.  Therefore, the main logic of the clipper will be hosted on a server and accessed on individual machines or terminals through web services.  Eventually, this will allow patrons to use the clipper from anywhere in the library system as a harvesting tool.  The goal is to centralize the clipping process as much as possible without the need of customizing individual machines, thus streamlining collection, cataloging, and preservation processes.

The prototype clipper is currently housed on two computers at the library in Austin and graduate research assistants are actively clipping web pages for archiving.  As they clip a page (see the image above for an example of a clipped page) , users enter metadata in predetermined fields and then assign descriptive terms as tags for subject and content cataloging. Users can either select from a thesaurus of human rights terms (in this case, they are beginning with the thesaurus from WITNESS and extending it with terms as appropriate) or assign arbitrary keywords.  Though users have complete control over clipping, documenting, and tagging a Web page, a moderator or manager determines if new terms should be added to the thesaurus.

Regardless of whether a new term makes it into the thesaurus, the pages clipped by users get stored in the archive.  Once items are clipped and tagged with descriptive terms, they are ingested into the UT Libraries’ institutional repository, based on DSpace.  Metadata are stored in the repository with a link to a local instance of Internet Archive’s  Wayback Machine.  These copies appear exactly as the pages appeared when the material was first clipped and submitted for preservation, thus maintaining their value as primary resources.

Metadata & the Future of Mobile Web Access

Posted in technology by Sarah on October 21, 2009

As we move forward with the electronic evidence study at CRL, one challenge keeps rising to the surface in all of our conversations, literature reviews, and reviews of internet resources.  In a word: Metadata.  Collecting metadata and context information seems to be particularly challenging for digitally or electronically created documentation;  in response, archivists and preservationists are striving to create simple, use-friendly means of capturing the information that will ensure that preserved documents will serve a long and useful life.  Such processes would allow documents to serve as evidence for continued activism, policy work, scholarship, legal action, and even for maintaining national memories of events once crises are past and democratic processes get improved or established (see the recent post on ADAM at Amnesty International for an example of one recently developed strategy).  After all, as the UN has recently established in its report Right to Truth, documentation and archives are fundamental to ensuring that all individuals’ human rights are supported and protected.

Automatic Metadata?

Given the challenges discussed above, it’s interesting to learn that the next generation of mobile Web devices will have the ability to automatically collect metadata such as geographic location, temporal information, and context for materials generated on them.  As stated in “Data-rich Internet Needs Context, New Modes of Consumption and Serendipity:”

In the future, metadata will be available on our mobile phones and it will provide computers with contextual information around data that developers create, according to Marc Davis, partner at Invention Arts and former chief scientist of Yahoo Mobile. By bridging the gap between pieces of information, particularly geolocation data, temporal information (when something is created) and other contextual information that Davis called the “who, what, when and where” clues, we’ll be able to help machines filter through data in ways that are more relevant for us ( Jennifer Martinez, GigaOM).

Of course, this capacity is being developed for programming and product development purposes, but if such data could be easily accessed by non-developers, they would have positive implications for digitally created human rights documentation, too.  If we can automatically have information about where, when, and in what context a document was created, we have a better chance of gleaning relevant materials–materials that might otherwise be lost for lack of context–for sustained engagement in activism, scholarship and legal action.

The Lede: How Social Media Can Inform Reporting

Posted in Human Rights news by Sarah on October 20, 2009
Image courtesy of /

Image courtesy of /

One of the important trends emerging in human rights work is the potential of social media and Web 2.0 to both inform the world of human rights issues and to create and disseminate first-hand accounts of events, abuses, political movements, and the like.  The New York Times runs a news blog, called The Lede, that illustrates how a variety of social media sources can be fact-checked and pulled into running coverage of breaking news and events.  Not all of their coverage concerns human rights material, but they have been regularly covering events in Iran since the contested presidential elections in June and the material they’ve pulled together is accessible through their archived articles.  Social media that get included in coverage include YouTube videos, photos from a variety of photo-sharing platforms, Twitter tweets, blogs, alternative press sites, and the like.

Digital Archiving Tool: Amnesty International’s ADAM

Posted in Archiving Solutions by Sarah on October 15, 2009

Amnesty International’s International Secretariat recently released an in-house digital archiving program called ADAM–Amnesty Digital Asset Management.  The program,  designed in conjunction with Bright Interactive, allows Amnesty field workers to upload digitally created photos, videos, and audio recordings into a central repository that all Amnesty members can access from within the organization.  ADAM is a customized application of Bright Interactive’s “Asset Bank” tool which:

is a digital asset management system, enabling your organisation to create a fully searchable, categorised library of digital images, videos and other documents. It is a high-performance, cost-effective server application to enable you to manage digital assets – all that is needed to access it is a web browser (from Asset Bank).

The description for the product goes on to specify that the Asset Bank program that ADAM is built from is customizable, scalable, and multi-lingual.

Because the program is accessible through a web browser, field workers can submit their field materials from anywhere in the world, as long as they have an internet link (sometimes a challenge in the further reaches of the world).  As users upload their digital materials, they fill in required fields for metadata and context information.  Use and access restrictions are also recorded in the record for each uploaded item.  At this point, uploading material into ADAM is  voluntary, but according to AI’s digital archivist, response has been enthusiastic.  The hope is that uploading material into ADAM will become standard practice for all field workers, thus streamlining archiving processes and making material readily available for AI reports and campaigns.  This material could also potentially be available for scholarly and legal work by outside parties–always dependent, of course, on the access agreements that AI holds with the creators of the material and the individuals represented in images, videos, or audio recordings.

Currently, ADAM holds approximately  36,000 records, 159 of which are available for public viewing at the ADAM Web site. Though Web site visitors from outside of AI can’t access the full holdings, the public holdings allow you to see the types of information that ADAM users submit when they upload their digital documentation items.  Information ADAM currently collects is as follows:


  • Title of the video, image, or audio file
  • Description of the content
  • Keywords, or terms for searching and cataloging
  • Campaigns that the item contributes to or was created for
  • Tags
  • Copyright type
  • Copyright credit

Agreement Type:

  • Agreement specifies the level of use that the creator of the piece and individuals represented within the piece permit within Amnesty International.  Some items are publicly available and others are highly restricted.
  • Agreement Notes specify additional use restrictions not covered in the standard agreements preset in ADAM
  • Shotlist/Transcript information for video and/or audio material
  • Date Created
  • Creation Date Accuracy is a space for stating level of confidence for when the item was created.
  • Place Created


  • Size of the digital image, video or audio recording in terms of image density and/or memory space required for the file
  • Orientation of images (landscape or portrait)


  • ID, a catalog number assigned to the item by ADAM
  • Date Last Modified
  • Embedded Data
  • Collections
  • Categories

JISC-PoWR: A Resource for Digital Preservation

Posted in Archiving Solutions by Sarah on October 9, 2009
image courtesy of

image courtesy of JISC-PoWR

The Joint Information Systems Committee, or JISC, is an organization in the UK dedicated to exploring the ways in which ICT (information and communication technologies) can support higher education and research.  According to their Web site, they sponsor or fund more than 200 projects related to innovative uses of ICT,  one of which is a focus on archiving the internet, social media, Web 2.0 and digital materials in general.  To this end, they have written a 104 page handbook on web archiving and support a blog, called JISC-PoWR, dedicated to all things digital archiving.  There are a number of informative posts and resources available at the site, including discussions of how to harvest and archive Twitter tweets, blogs, fragile Web pages, and the like.

An Attempt at Web-Archiving Human Rights in Eritrea

Posted in Reviews by Sarah on October 7, 2009

I found the Web page that I review below in a comment on the WITNESS Media Archive blog.  It struck me as an interesting example of a local attempt to gather together human rights documentation, as well as a bit of a cautionary tale–much of the information in the site comes from links to other Web resources that have subsequently disappeared.


EHREA: Eritrean Human Rights Electronic Archive

Flag Map of Etriea

Flag Map of Etriea. Image courtesy of

EHREA, or the Eritrean Human Rights Electronic Archive, represents an effort to consolidate information about human rights abuses that have taken place in Eritrea since independence from Ethiopia in 1991.  The goal of the site is to archive photos, testimonies, media reports, video clips, and links to related Web sites  in an effort to “increase public awareness of injustices carried out in Eritrea and elsewhere by the PFDJ [People’s Front for Democracy and Justice] and to serve as a platform to hasten the introduction of justice and democracy in Eritrea.”  People are invited to submit any information or documentation they have concerning  abuses to a personal email address for the individual who appears to be responsible for the Web page.

The website is a bit difficult to navigate–It isn’t clear how materials are preserved and the organization is a bit piece-meal–but it’s worth exploring because of the variety of information and resources available.   Equally interesting is the number of links to resources that are broken, highlighting the fragile nature of human rights Web sites, especially in states or areas that have fewer Web resources than we do in the West.  It appears that the organizer of this Web site has been able to capture images of Web pages, but they no longer link when the pages are shut down for whatever reason.

Un-Conference on Social Media and Activism

Posted in Conferences & Meetings, technology by Sarah on October 6, 2009

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media will be hosting a one day working meeting to look at the role of  Social Media in activism.  The title of the (un-)conference is “The Conscience  Un-Conference: Using Social Media for Good” and will take place in Washington D.C. on December 5, 2009.

From the webpage:

Can a tweet confront hatred? Can tagging photos prevent prejudice? Can a Facebook fan page promote human dignity? Can a mobile phone strengthen democracy?

The Conscience Un-Conference: Using Social Media for Good is a free, one-day “un-conference” co-hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media. It intends to bring together interesting and interested people to talk about the problems, practicalities, and opportunities of using social media to further the missions of “institutions of conscience”—those concerned with violence and atrocities, human rights, and related issues.

The “un-conference” will be held on Saturday, December 5, 2009 from 8:30am to 5:30pm at the Museum in Washington, DC. Applications are due by Tuesday, October 13, 2009. Learn more and apply.

The point of this meeting is to consider the increasing use of social media in public institutions (e.g., museums or libraries) and how this relates to concerns about control of collections, security of individuals, sensitive materials, or sensitive populations, and those “who hold in trust the memories of victims of tyranny, human rights abuses, and genocide.”  The goal of the un-conference is to hash out these issues  as institutions increasingly participate in platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like.  There is no set agenda–it is to be a working meeting between attendees and serve as a starting point for devising practices for the responsible use of social media within public institutions.