The Digital Verification Unit works with Amnesty International and other partners to conduct investigations into human rights violations around the world, using open source techniques.
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. This video recaps the work of Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps over the last year.
Students are trained to verify user-generated information – think videos or photos posted to social media, or shared on messaging services - and to use this information to investigate and document potential human rights violations or war crimes.
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, Matthew Gillet, and Sam Dubberley.
In November 2019, the DVC won the Times Higher Education Award for International Collaboration of the Year.
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 Armed Conflict and Crisis Hub.
To apply to join the Digital Verification Unit for the 2021-2022 year, please send an email to Daragh Murray email@example.com, with ‘DVU Application’ in the subject line. In the email, please include a cover letter (max one page) saying why you would like to join the DVU, and a copy of your CV. The application deadline is 4pm on 14 October 2021.
Please note that we deliberately recruit as diversely as possible, and we aim to have a mix of people with prior human rights experience, and people without. So don’t worry, you don’t need to have previous human rights experience or any open source experience. You will receive training for this.
If you are interested in learning more, please come to a drop in session at 2pm on Wednesday 13 October in NTC.1.01, where we will present the work of the DVU, and walk you through some of the techniques. Please bring a laptop.
There is a mandatory training with Amnesty International on the weekend of 13 and 14 November 2021, on campus. We ask all our members to commit to 6-8 hours work per week (with exam breaks) and to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
To find out more, have a look at the video below, where I introduce the Unit, and where some previous members answer common questions.
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.
In December 2019, The Digital Verification Corps was named International Collaboration of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards.