A New App for Armchair Big Brothers

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06/12/13
In the Magazine
Gregory Michael/Facebook

WHETHER IT’S a terrorist bombing or cops with pepper spray, an Arab uprising or a politician’s blooper, current events today are recorded from countless angles on smartphone cameras. Some images are unreliable or faked; sometimes investigators are overwhelmed with evidence. But several new projects are trying to make sense of this visual cacophony. The human-rights organization Witness is helping develop an app called InformaCam that not only embeds geographic and time data in videos but signs them and encrypts them for storage on a secure server. Such evidence could prove vital, for instance, in the prosecution of Syrian war criminals. The Rashomon Project, meanwhile, takes its name from the classic Japanese movie about a murder seen through the eyes of four different witnesses. The Rashomon online toolkit generates a synchronized timeline from multiple images and videos, allowing an event to be viewed from as many angles as there are smartphones. This may sound like so much more Big Brother watching you, but there’s a twist. These tools are for the public, says Camille Crittenden at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, so “armchair investigators” can be watching Big Brother, too.

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