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Exposing the invisible

"Unseen War", Tactical Technology Collective. Some rights reserved.Paul
Radu is a Romanian journalist working with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting
Project. Radu and his team expose criminal groups across eastern Europe using
an investigative technique called 'follow the money'. He explains: “money is
the global language that connects illegal enterprises everywhere, and
investigators who understand this language can find the root of crime and
corruption.”

'Follow
the money' is a tool that is increasingly used and referenced as a method to
expose corruption. It utilises publicly available information contained within
databases, company ownership or real estate registrations, to name a few, in
order to trace money back to its original source.

Radu's
work is explored in the film series Exposing
the Invisible
. The
first episode follows Radu and his colleagues as they unveil corruption across
borders from Romania to the presidential family in Azerbaijan. Exposing the Invisible is a collection
of short films, resources and tools that offer up the personal stories of those
working at the frontiers of investigation.

"Our Currency is Information", Tactical Technology Collective. Some rights reserved.The
Exposing the Invisible project is the
work of the Tactical Technology Collective,
an international NGO based in Berlin. Since 2003 Tactical Tech has been tapping
into an international network of partners and collaborators to help rights,
accountability and transparency advocates and the communities they work with to
use information and digital technologies effectively.

Exposing the Invisible explores how
new types of actors, artists, data journalists, programmers, researchers and
activists, are able to work together to identify new strands of evidence
available in the public sphere. The digital age has profoundly transformed the
way people find and share information. “I would say that maybe a little
bit more than 95 percent of the information we use and represent on our
websites and in our investigative articles is public information,” Radu tells
us. This public information can be anything from international databases,
public registries and archives to social media, satellite imagery and metadata.

Swimming in data

Data
surrounds our interactions with each other both online and offline. It is relentlessly collected on both individual and
societal levels. Rather than seeing this as wholly negative, Exposing the Invisible takes advantage
of the flaws that run across the current data landscape. People of interest
also leave traces behind and have their own digital shadows. Exposing the Invisible attempts to help
activists navigate this new environment and offers a range of resources, tools
and methodology for them to conduct their own investigations and also manage
and mitigate the risks involved in this type of work.

Exposing the Invisible’s second
episode, “From My Point of View”, profiles three 'investigators-in-the-making'
investigating issues ranging from weapon supply routes in Syria, urban
land-grabbing in post-conflict Beirut and how DIY aerial mapping can expose and
challenge power relations in east Jerusalem.

From My Point Of View (Exposing the Invisible) from Tactical Technology Collective on Vimeo.

For
one of these investigators – the UK-based blogger Eliot Higgins (aka Brown
Moses) – what began as a hobby led to detailed expertise on the arms being used
in Syria. Disillusioned with mass media coverage of the conflict and the
undervaluing of citizen journalism, his painstaking analysis of the thousands
of YouTube videos coming out of Syria since the civil war broke out picks out
the details too often missed by others.

The
rise of social media has opened up a vast set of new resources for reporters to
exploit, with three days’ worth of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. In
“From My Point of View”, Higgins takes us through the tools and processes he
uses to gain insight from video footage, ranging from weather websites to
googling photos taken by enthusiasts at military shows, and highlights the
importance of verification in establishing himself as a reliable, neutral
source amid a sea of partisan online point-scoring.

In
the final episode, “Unseen War”, we explore the physical, moral and political
invisibility of US drone strikes in Pakistan. By speaking to journalists,
activists and experts inside and outside of Pakistan, the film looks at the
consequences of the strikes in the tribal FATA region and how the issue can be
made more visible by using data and visualisation tactics. “Unseen War” takes a
complicated, multi-faceted issue and works to come at it from a different angle
– the deployment of artistic techniques, for example – in order to move drones
from an invisible zone into something more tangible.

Unseen War (Exposing the Invisible) from Tactical Technology Collective on Vimeo.

Our
films are licensed under a creative commons license and are available online to
either stream or download. Since they were released last year over 4,000 people
have attended 131 screenings that have been organised by volunteers all over
the world. These screenings have ranged from film festivals in Spain to smaller
groups gathering around a projector. “Unseen War” has been aired on Pakistani
Cable TV and watched by a reported 1.6 million viewers.

DIY investigations

"Exposing the Invisible", Tactical Technology Collective. Some rights reserved.Our
films feature political actors leading investigations rather than trained
investigators with resources and capacity at their disposal. We follow
individuals who use creative, often low-tech methods. Hagit, an Israeli
activist who is fighting government demolitions of Palestinian homes in east
Jerusalem, works to help families stitch together new narratives that challenge
government impunity. She uses community-based, free and open source tools and
low-cost tactics to bypass governmental and corporate control over geo-spatial
information that shapes society’s view of urban space.

Challenging
constructs of invisibility is not only difficult, but at times risky. Security
is an essential part of this work, not only for the risks you accept but also
because those you work with are also then put at risk. We are currently working
on integrated digital security training within the investigation workshops that
we carry out. Integrated security is the idea that you should adopt good
security practices from the beginning and throughout the process, rather than
as an afterthought. Activists must assume that their work will be visibly
successful and prepare for the security risks that this will undoubtedly bring.
This builds off one of Tactical Tech's largest projects, "Security
in-a-box", a freely available toolkit that is available in 16
languages and offers human rights activists tools and tactics to increase their
security online.

"From my Point of View", Tactical Technology Collective. Some rights reserved.Exposing the Invisible covers
similar built-in practices for dealing with questions of validation and
verification when working with digital visual evidence. Due to the rise of
digital technologies for both the creation and publication of visual evidence,
there are a number of questions raised from using these tools and
user-generated content for investigation purposes. Exposing the Invisible showcases the tools and resources that can
be used to help others think about verification and how to cross-reference
publicly available information. These tools can range from "WHOIS",
a domain name database where you can search for details on who has registered a
particular domain, through to "The Verification Handbook",
a free “definitive guide to verifying digital content for emergency
coverage”.

With
an eye to the future, at Tactical Tech we have a number of questions that we
intend to answer. What is the data environment that makes this use of publicly
available data possible? What part do we play in it? What are the systems that
are perpetuating knowledge inequality? We want to dig deeper into the abuse of
power between public and private partnerships within this data society. And we
will focus on the environment that enables these abuses to occur and the role
you have within it. In early 2016 we will release new films alongside an
exhibition on the “Politics of Data” which we are co-producing with Haus der
Kulturen der Welt.

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