Where facts matter
UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center has launched a university-based open source investigations lab to verify and document human rights violations and potential war crimes—the first lab of its kind in the world. Almost 80 students from 22 majors and minors who collectively speak more than 30 languages are now working in eight teams to contribute verified information to international NGOs, news organizations, and legal partners.
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.
The Lab also collaborates with ProPublica’s Documenting Hate project to find and verify hate incidents in the United States and with legal partners, such as the Center for Justice and Accountability, and International Human Rights Law Clinic, on legal cases.
We work with tech companies to pilot software designed to aid with verification, geolocation, and information management and with a team of Berkeley computer science students from the nonprofit Archer.
In addition to learning open source tools and techniques, students also learn how to develop awareness about and resiliency to secondary trauma as they conduct the stressful work of remote human rights investigations.
Press coverage of the Human Rights Investigations Lab has included a story on PBS NewsHour story about the launch of the lab and a June 2017 UC Berkeley news story and video about the international summit held on campus, and stories in California Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle. Funding for the Lab has come from the Oak Foundation, Humanity United, Sigrid Rausing Trust, and Rockefeller Foundation.