The Documentalist

FSI Stanford’s Program on Liberation Technology

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on January 28, 2010

Apparently playing on the term “Liberation Theology,” the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford offers the Program on Liberation Technology, the focus of which is, “…to understand how information technology can be used to defend human rights, improve governance, empower the poor, promote economic development, and pursue a variety of other social goods.”  The program was established in January of 2009 and offers a variety of academic venues, including the following:

  1. Research seminars, where leading scholars and practitioners of these technologies report on what they are learning and doing.  These seminars will result in reports, working papers, and academic publications, and will inform the community of affiliated scholars with the program about the latest developments in the field.
  2. Design seminars, where Stanford faculty and graduate students as well as other innovators and activists present their work in progress in the Design Center, and receive feedback, or ongoing forms of advice and collaboration, that help to develop new ways of utilizing technology for civic and developmental purposes.
  3. Hosting of postdoctoral fellows, who will enrich the research and design activity of the program with their own cutting-edge work.  It is envisioned that each year the program will bring one fellow with a specialization in law or social science and one specialized in computer science or some other area of engineering.
  4. Small start-up grants for new research and design projects, providing seed money to principal investigators from a variety of Stanford schools and departments to begin developing new projects that innovate in the design or application of information technologies to advance such public goods as political freedom, government transparency, economic development, social justice, public health, environmental protection and/or the rule of law.
  5. Support of undergraduate research and conferences, to fund undergraduates pursuing senior honor’s thesis research in this area, student-initiated courses, and small-scale student conferences exploring the use and development of liberation technology.  It is envisioned that at least two students in the CDDRL senior honor’s program each year will be pursuing theses in this area.

See the program home page at for more complete information and links to related programs and activities at Stanford.


New Tactics Dialogue via WITNESS Media Archive

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on January 27, 2010

Logo image courtesy of New Tactics (

Grace Lile at WITNESS Media Archive has posted information about the New Tactics Dialogue starting today and running through February 5, 2010.  She writes:

Documenting Violations: Choosing the Right Approach is an online dialogue being facilitated by New Tactics in Human Rights, beginning today and running through February 5, 2010. From NT:

“This dialogue will feature practitioners that have developed database systems to document human rights violations, organizations on the ground documenting violations, and those that are training practitioners on how to choose the right approach and system for their documentation. We will look at options for ways to collect, store and share your human rights data safely and effectively. If you are trying to figure out the best documenting system for your work – or if you have found something that works well, please join us for this conversation to share your questions, ideas, resources and stories!”

See the complete post at WITNESS Media Archive for more information about this program.

Yale Conference: Access to Knowledge 4 to Focus on Knowledge & Human Rights

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on January 27, 2010

Image courtesy of Yale Law School

The Yale Information Society Project is hosting their Access to Knowledge 4 conference February 11-13, 2010.    As stated on the conference website, the overall focus of the conference concerns the following:

Access to knowledge (A2K) is about designing intellectual property laws, telecommunication policies, and technical architectures that encourage broader participation in cultural, civic, and educational affairs; expand the benefits of scientific and technological advancementl and promote innovation, development, and social progress across the globe.

This year’s particular focus will focus in particular on the intersection between access to knowledge and human rights, noting that, “The right to take part in cultural life, to share in scientific progress, the rights to education, health care, and food: all are impacted by policies and movements around intellectual property and Internet freedom.”

Themes include:

  • Access to Knowledge and International Human Rights
  • Technologies of Dissent
  • The Right to Culture and Science
  • Digital Education and The Right to Learn

See the entire post at for a complete discussion of the conference.

Satellite Image Archives

Posted in Archiving Solutions, Reviews by Sarah on January 21, 2010

From satellites to archived files. Image courtesy of Integral Systems

The last couple of posts have dealt with the technology of satellite imagery and how this imagery can serve human rights.  However, of more interest to some might be the archiving of satellite images.  After all, the benefit of satellite imagery for human rights work is predicated on access to “before” and “after” images that illustrate physical destruction of villages or farms in the wake of human rights atrocities–the before images perforce come from past images that organizations acquire from archives of stored and cataloged materials collected by various geo-spatial imaging companies’ satellites.

Because satellite imaging companies are for-profit, information about their archiving practices is fairly limited, but some information is available on-line and is summarized below for three large imaging firms: GeoEye, ImageSat International, and Digital Globe.  These companies have each provided images to human rights organizations or to researchers investigating human rights events, either as donations or through purchase arrangements.


GeoEye maintains an archive of satellite images and a suite of services for accessing them.  These services are available through their GeoFUSE program, described as follows:

GeoEye’s Imagery Sources collect vast amounts of high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery from around the globe each day. This imagery is processed and used in a multitude of applications such as mapping, disaster response, infrastructure management, and environmental monitoring. Now, with GeoEye’s new suite of Search & Discovery tools, our customers can browse the GeoEye image catalog archives, quickly and easily locating and previewing imagery for their specific needs. Using the information obtained through use of these tools, our customers can easily communicate the information necessary to place orders for imagery products that meet their project requirements.

Access services include: Online Maps, Google Earth Tools, Online Resource Center, Advanced Search Options, Toolbar for ArcMaps (a desk top GIS application), Help & Documentaiton, and Image search (Resourcesat-1 catalogs).  Some preliminary searching can be done through these tools at the website and selected preview images can be stored in a personal file at the GeoEye Webpage for reference and purchase. GeoEye also offers imagery for free to academics, human rights organizations, and other non-profits through the GeoEye Foundation.

ImageSat International.

ImageSat has an archive, but little information about it is available online.  The Website states:

ImageSat maintains an imagery archive, which contains all imaged EROS A data, including that which is down-linked by the ground control stations in ImageSat’s Global Network. Customers may purchase this imagery at preferred prices. To enquire about purchasing imagery from the ImageSat Imagery Archive, contact our Order Desk or call us at +972-3-7960627.

There are sample images available through the gallery, but there does not appear to be a means of searching preview images as there is at GeoEye’s website.  The page requests that you call for information.

Digital Globe

Digital Globe also maintains an archive of their satellite imagery, which you can learn more about by contacting them directly at the following:

Please Contact Customer Service for information on searching The DigitalGlobe Archive

Toll Free: 800.496.1225 or
Phone: 303.684.4561
Fax: 303.684.4562

Currently, Digital Globe is offering free imagery for coverage of the Haiti crisis, which is available on their gallery page. Click on the “Free Access to Haiti Imagery” button and you will be taken to an order form for imagery requests.  They also offer an on-line image search feature that allows site visitors to sample the imagery in the archive according to region of the world.  An interactive map leads visitors through the preview process.  Standard imagery is available upon request:

Standard Imagery can be acquired directly from the DigitalGlobe archive or you can submit a new collection request. Standard Imagery is ordered by area, with a minimum purchase of 25 km2 (~10 mi2) for archive orders. For tasking, the minimum area for ordering is 25 km2 (~10 mi2), but minimum pricing rules apply, depending on the tasking level selected. If your order crosses more than one strip, one standard imagery product per scene is delivered.

Products are delivered on your choice of standard digital media with Image Support Data files including image metadata.

Eyes On Darfur: AI-USA & AAAS Collaborate to Bring Satellite Imaging to Human Rights

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on January 20, 2010

Image courtesy of Eyes on Darfur.

On June 6, 2007, Amnesty International-USA launched its “Eyes on Darfur” project Website as a means of calling attention to and actively monitoring human rights violations in Darfur through satellite imagery. The site presents satellite images of 12 villages that have been destroyed by the Sudanese government, as well as 12 villages that are at risk of future human rights abuses.  Similar to crisis mapping, the goal is to draw together accounts from witnesses and locate that information on a map, but in this case, the map is created on satellite images that provides visual evidence of events that the Sudanese government denies.  As stated at the Eyes on Darfur Webpage:

Amnesty International’s unprecedented Eyes On Darfur project leverages the power of high-resolution satellite imagery to provide unimpeachable evidence of the atrocities being committed in Darfur – enabling action by private citizens, policy makers and international courts. Eyes On Darfur also breaks new ground in protecting human rights by allowing people around the world to literally “watch over” and protect twelve intact, but highly vulnerable, villages using commercially available satellite imagery.

Kennedy Abwao writes for SciDev Net and observes that, “this kind of monitoring has become essential because the Sudanese government has been unwilling to grant entry permits to Darfur” to on-site monitors who could report on government abuses in the region.   As noted in a report by erdas (link opens a .pdf file), “While the images only track the changes in landscape, the implied damage provides compelling evidence and visual aids for the indisputable atrocities that are devastating this part of the world.”

The Eyes On Darfur endeavor is funded by the Save Darfur Coalition came together through a collaboration by Amnesty International-USA with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Human Rights Program, which has worked since 1977 to promote the use of science based solutions to human rights problems.  At the Eyes on Darfur Website, viewers can interact with satellite images of atrocity sites in order to learn about events there.  Viewers click on a village location on a map and a variety of information is pulled up including before and after images (in the case of destroyed villages), based on details of events gathered by witnesses, and general statistics about the extent of destruction or the impact of military actions (for villages at risk).   The satellite images for these reports are retrieved from archives from three commercial satellite imaging companies: ImageSat International, Digital Globe, and GeoEye (see this recent post for a description of GeoEye’s work in particular).

The multi-media presentation of information is made possible through a variety of programs from tech firms specializing in GSI data processing, visual data processing, and data mapping.   Companies that contributed to the development of Eyes on Darfur (through discounted or donated software and expertise) include: ESRI, Leica Geosystems, ITT Visual Information Systems, and Global Mapper.

An Oldy But Goody: Thoughts For Constructing a Human Rights Community Space

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on January 12, 2010

We want to know what you think!

"Archives Shaping Man" image courtesy of Randolf County Archives

One of the goals for the CRL Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study is to organize an on-line community space where activists and archivists can access  resources and share information about the role of digital technology in human rights documentation and archiving.  With this goal in mind, Sarah (the CRL Project Coordinator in Human Rights) has been trolling the web for information on how various technologies are currently serving human rights endeavors, as well as models for how to structure and share information for on-line communities.    With this goal in mind, here is an old sites with some good information.  This might be the sort of information we want to consider pulling into the on-line community space once we start building it, so please give us feed back.  Is this sort of information useful?  Do you have suggestions for what you would like to see in such a space or what sort of functionality would server your needs in human rights archiving?  Please let us know!

Derechos Human Rights Report: “Concise Guide to Human Rights on the Internet”

In September 1998, Derechos Human Rights (an online human rights group dedicated to supporting international human rights law) published an online report called the “Concise Guide to Human Rights on the Internet.”   Originally published in 1996, this 1998 version recognized the increasing importance of the internet to human rights activism and sought to help users begin to figure out how to navigate the increasing amount of human rights information available on-line:

Since this guide was first published two years ago, there has been an explosion of human rights information on the World Wide Web (web). Not only have many non-government organizations (NGOs) gotten online and began publishing their materials, but international organizations have begun to make large portions of their materials available online, making research much easier than in the past. Academic and legal journals, moreover, have begun to offer at least some of their articles in the web as well. The growth of the web, however, has also meant that finding the desired materials is likely to be more difficult for those not already acquainted with the major human rights sites. Fortunately, most of the major sites have done a very good job of compiling lists of links to other sites with human rights materials, so that using them as starting points is likely to lead you to the material you seek. Those sites and the other tools described here should help you find you what you need.

The guide provides Web-links to sources of information in human righst and could serve as a partial model for the kinds of information we’d like to incorporate into our own site as we develop it.  Many of the links in the Derechos Report still access resources and group Webpages, but many of the links no longer function.  Due to the nature of electronic communication and digital documentation, information is in constant need of updating in order to be informative and useful, but this sort of updating appears to be quite challenging.  We thus propose that a dynamic community environment that members contribute to on a regular basis as part of their daily interaction might be one means of overcoming this particular challenge.  Please let us know if you have ideas about how this can be accomplished in straight forward ways that would be useful for you.

Derechos Human Rights Links

Derechos, through its partnership with Equipo Nizkor, offers a “Human Rights Links” page that is more straightforwardly organized and seems to present more up-to-date information.  The page is available in English or Spanish and offers a list of thematic categories such as “Campaigns and Actions,” “Law,” or “General Websites” that offer more specific resources within them.

Google’s GeoEye-1 Satellite Service and Human Rights

Posted in technology by Sarah on January 7, 2010

Image courtesy of

In the last year, Google joined forces with GeoEye–the world’s largest space imaging corporation ( Wikipedia) to provide users with access to some of the most detailed images of the earth’s surface currently available. Though GeoEye’s primary customers are United States defense and intelligence agencies, Google acquired exclusive online mapping use of images generated by the GeoEye-1–the company’s flagship satellite–for their Google Maps and Google Earth applications (Wikipedia and loudoni, December 28, 2009).  As Kate Hurowitz, a Google spokesperson observes, “The GeoEye-1 satellite has the highest resolution color imagery available in the commercial market place and will produce high-quality imagery with a very accurate geo-location” (Digital Media, August 29, 2008). Such information could be quite useful to human rights organizations that utilize crisis mapping as part of their monitoring and activism efforts.  Given that crisis mapping engines such as Ushahidi (described here and here) create media mashups that allow users to post events they witness to interactive Google Maps, the detailed imagery from the GeoEye-1 could  increase the accuracy of such information through more precise location information and by providing increased visual detail about the physical context of reported events.  Furthermore, this sort of detailed imaging could serve provide evidence of how areas are ravaged by wide-spread violence by comparing images taken of the area at several different points in time.

GeoEye Foundation Supports Human Rights

Image courtesy of the GeoEye Foundation

Though GeoEye’s main business model is primarily focused on selling contracts to private enterprises, the company also seeks to serve academic and non-governmental organizations by providing free imagery to students and NGOs for research purposes through its charitable GeoEye Foundation.  Since March, 2007, the GeoEye Foundation has provided 90 imagery grants covering 85,000 square kilometers of imagery (loudoni, December 28, 2009).  As stated at the foundation’s Web page, “Foundation awardees have spanned a variety of academic backgrounds, including archaeology, human rights, climate change, forestry, geospatial intelligence, and land cover assessments.”

The GeoEye Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded to support the company’s belief that they have a social responsibility to share their imagery and to support efforts to train future professionals in means of monitoring the earth,which they focus on in three ways (GeoEye Foundation):

  • Fostering the growth of the next generation of geospatial technology professionals
  • Providing satellite imagery to students and faculty to advance research in geographic information systems and technology as well as environmental studies
  • Assisting non-governmental organizations in humanitarian support missions

For an example of how imagery from GeoEye satellites can serve human rights see the Porta Farm Zimbabwe case study published on the Foundation’s Web page.   This case study illustrates how detailed satellite imagery provided evidence of human rights abuses during Zimbabwe’s Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order).  During this campaign in 2005,  the government confiscated white-owned corporate and private farms, ostensibly to redistribute the land to  black Zimbabweans.  However, in a bitterly ironic twist, during the demolitions of these farms, government officials destroyed the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of black Zimbabweans who lived and worked on them.  As the case study observes:

The Zimbabwe government began Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) in May 2005. This was a program of mass forced evictions and demolition of homes and businesses. The government carried out Operation Murambatsvina in the winter and during a period of food shortage. This increased the hysteria. One UN report estimated the number displaced to be 700,000. In late June, during a several day period, the government instituted forced demolitions at Porta Farm. Local human rights monitors reported that during the disorganized demolition several deaths occurred, including those of children. Bulldozers executed the main demolition process at the end of July 2005.

The images in this case study show the existence of the large and thriving Prota Farm village in 2000 followed by an image of the area after its demolition in 2005.  The new image shows only the village roads roads–all housing and commercial structures are gone, necessitating the displacement of the hundreds of families that had lived there.

GeoEye’s Image Quality and Resolution

The GeoEye-1 satellite is able to produce some of the most detailed images of the earth’s surface taken from space.  As the satellite circles the earth every 98 minutes (loudoni, December 28, 2009), traveling at a velocity of 4.5 miles per second (Digital Media, October 8, 2008), and at an altitude of 425 miles in a sun-synchronous orbit (Wikipedia), the GeoEye-1 is capable of capturing details on the earth’s surface as small as 41 cm, or 14 inches in size.  That said, government security regulations limit commercial images–such as those that appear on Google–to a resolution of 50 cm, or 20 inches.  However, this is still quite detailed, as illustrated by the image below.  This image of of the modern Library of Alexandria (apropo for a blog dedicated to archiving technologies)–was captured on May 30, 2009 at a resolution of 50 cm and demonstrates the level of detail that can be captured for public use by the cameras on the GeoEye-1 Satellite.

The modern Library of Alexandria (Bibliotheca Alexandrina) in Alexandria, Egypt. Image courtesy of

As of October, 2009, the GeoEye-1 had captured approximately 340 million square kilometers of imagery of the earth’s surface.  It combines two technologies to accomplish this: a military GPS receiver and star trackers, both of which allow the satellite to accurately identify the location of captured images.  Although it is impossible to change the orbit of a satellite once it is in motion, the angle of the GeoEye-1 can be shifted up to 60 degrees by operators on the ground, thus effectively expanding the “range of vision” that the satellite has (loudoni, December 28, 2009).  However, the company’s imaging abilities will soon increase as they are currently developing the GeoEye-2 satellite, which is scheduled to launch by 2013.  This satellite will have an imaging resolution of 25 centimeters, or approximately 10 inches.

The GeoEye satellites are licensed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  Given that satellite images could reveal sensitive information from the point of view of national security, NOAA has the right to pull them, however, it has not done so to date.  But Mark Brender, the head of GeoEye does not feel that NOAA would be able to successfully shutter the cameras on the GeoEye satellites, stating:

In the event that NOAA does cancel service for GeoEye, the news media can contest it as a First Amendment issue, … , because space is non=sovereign.  This prohibits “shutter control” by the government.

Thus GeoEye stands to serve non-government information services well into the future.

More on Ushahidi

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on January 4, 2010

Patrick Meier of iRevolution recently wrote a blog post clarifying three common misconceptions that people and organizations have about Ushahidi and the work its platform enables:

Here are three interesting misconceptions about Ushahidi and crowdsourcing in general:

  1. Ushahidi takes the lead in deploying the Ushahidi platform
  2. Crowdsourced information is statistically representative
  3. Crowdsourced information cannot be validated

Lets start with the first. We do not take the lead in deploying Ushahidi platforms. In fact, we often learn about new deployments second-hand via Twitter. We are a non-profit tech company and our goal is to continue developing innovative crowdsourcing platforms that cater to the growing needs of our current and prospective partners. We provide technical and strategic support when asked but otherwise you’ll find us in the backseat, which is honestly where we prefer to be. Our comparative advantage is not in deployment. So the credit for Ushahidi deployments really go the numerous organizations that continue to implement the platform in new and innovative ways.

Please see “Three Common Misconceptions about Ushahidi” for the entirety of the post.