The Digital Verification Unit operates under the umbrella of the Human Rights Centre Clinic, is affiliated with the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project, and is a member of the University of Essex Conflict and Acute Crisis Hub.
Recent advances in digital communications technology – and in particular social media and the spread of the smartphone – have revolutionized the practice of human rights. Victims of, and witnesses to, human rights abuses can now document their experiences, and share them directly with the world. This information can then contribute to broader human rights documentation and accountability mechanisms. Indeed, the recent International Criminal Court arrest warrant issued against Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli was based entirely on open source digital information.
Building on longstanding work in the field, Essex Human Rights Centre launched a Digital Verification Unit in 2016 to strengthen the use of emerging technologies in human rights investigations and prosecutions. We have since created one of the first university-based Human Rights Investigations Units of its kind to conduct open source investigations for international organizations and courts. Amnesty International is our principal partner, and we are a member of their Digital Verification Corps. We also work with other partners such as NGOs and UN Commissions of Inquiry to advance human rights documentation and strengthen the veracity of information. Students are trained to verify user generated information on potential war crimes and hate crimes and to rapidly respond to human rights crises.
The Digital Verification Unit works to document and verify digital evidence pertaining to human rights abuses, and to use open source investigative techniques in the pursuit of accountability. It is run by Daragh Murray, Katya Al Khateeb and Sam Dubberley. Our principal partner is Amnesty International, and the Essex Digital Verification Unit forms part of Amnesty’s digital verification corps.
We will be recruiting for new members of the Digital Verification Unit in early October. Membership is open to all university students, but requires a commitment of 6 to 8 hours per week during term time. A drop in session will be held on 9 October 4-6pm in NTC.3.05, where we will run through the type of work involved and show you how to do some open source investigating. The date is to be confirmed, so check back here for updates. For those selected to participate there will be a mandatory training session, run by Amnesty International, on the weekend of 26 and 27 October.
The Digital Verification Unit is part of many projects, the following is an example of our contributions.
In 2018, The Centre of Governance and Human Rights in Cambridge co-hosted the 2018 Digital Verification Corps Summit in collaboration with Amnesty International and with support from Open Society Foundations.