Human Rights Investigations Lab history

The Human Rights Investigations Lab is training UC Berkeley students in cutting-edge, open source research methods to tackle specific, well-defined human rights and public health problems. Berkeley students are receiving training from world-class open source intelligence experts and conducting supervised research into suspected human rights violations and public health challenges with an eye toward impact and accountability.

Our initial cohorts of Human Rights Investigations Lab Interns have included:

  • Fall 2016: 42 registered students, from 14 majors, including Computer Science, Economics, English, Environmental Economics and Policy, Global Poverty and Practice, Journalism, Jurisprudence and Social Policy, Law, Legal Studies, Master of Development Practice, Media Studies, Political Science, Sociology, and the Human Rights Minor. The students spoke 16 languages, including Arabic (Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi and Persian Gulf dialects), Bengali, Burmese, English, Farsi, French, Hindi, Hebrew, Italian, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Urdu. They came from more than a dozen countries, including Bangladesh, Burma, Chile, Columbia, Iran, Pakistan, Palestine, Russia, Singapore, Syria, Turkey, and the United States (list not exhaustive).
  • Spring 2016: 57 registered students, from 24 majors, collectively speaking 20 languages
  • Spring 2017: 62 registered students who collectively speak more than 20 languages and come from 25 different majors and minors. 
  • Fall 2017: 53 registered students, from 19 majors, collectively speaking 26 languages
  • Spring 2018: 82 registered students, from 22 majors, collectively speaking more than 30 languages

These students have participated in an intensive training by experts in OSINT techniques, learning to verify videos and photographs use geolocation applications to identify or corroborate locations and experiment with cutting-edge platforms for information sharing. They have worked in teams to analyze videos of protests and bombings—drawing on their collective insights and skill sets to verify and debunk information. They have also undergone “resiliency” training to learn how to respond to the stressful work of remote human rights investigations.

Students learn how to conduct the painstaking work of authenticating hundreds of hours of video footage and photographs of human rights abuses and war crimes from conflict zones in more than a dozen countries—including Syria, Myanmar, Egypt, Iraq, and the United States. Students also use open source methods to gather evidence of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for national and international criminal courts.

Created with minimal startup costs, the Lab draws on the expertise of Berkeley’s diverse and multilingual faculty and students. It also relies on the skills and knowledge of journalists from organizations that have been pioneers in the field of open source investigations, including Storyful, Bellingcat, and First Draft News

The Lab is partnering with Amnesty International and the Digital Verification Corps (which also includes the University of Essex, University of Pretoria, University of Toronto, and Cambridge University to date). Amnesty experts train Berkeley students in verification and discovery techniques and then work with students to verify content—sometimes in a matter of hours or days—for international reports. Berkeley hosted the first Digital Verification Corps Student Summit in June, bringing together students from participating schools as well as leading open source experts, for evaluation, training, and planning.