The SecureSmartCam project, a collaboration of WITNESS and the Guardian Project, aims to design and develop a new type of smartphone camera app that respects the visual privacy, anonymity and consent of the subjects they photograph or record. It’s designed for capturing images in politically sensitive situations where preserving the anonymity of subjects is a serious consideration.
The SecureSmartCam project recently crossed a major milestone with the beta release of the ObscuraCam app for Android, which automatically pixelates the faces of subjects captured by the app.
The SecureSmartCam project was developed in part at OVC 2010, and in association with WITNESS, the project will be returning to this year’s Open Video Conference.
We sat down with Bryan Nunez, Technology Manager at WITNESS, to discuss the project.
Q. What is the plan for getting this technology deployed?
We’ve been very open and transparent about the development of the technology from the outset of the project. We’re using open source tools such as Android, OpenCV, and using GitHub to publicly manage the code. So all the source code and builds have been available to the public.
In addition to GitHub we’re also distributing the app via the Android Market. We plan to distribute the app to our human rights partners through trainings as well.
Q. How does the SecureSmartCam idea fit in with other things happening at Witness?
SecureSmartCam is part of larger initiative we’ve started called, “Cameras Everywhere.” Essentially we recognize that video is becoming more accessible and more ubiquitous both in terms of technology and distribution channels. This flood of video represents more opportunities to expose human rights abuse, but as more people
post videos online, there’s also more potential that people might be endangered if they’re not aware of the possible risks.
We hope to enable an environment where people can use video for human rights in a safer and more effective way, by working with technology developers and providers as well building tools such as the SSC.
Q. This year’s SecureSmartCam session continues some work that began during last year’s OVC. Tell us more.
Although WITNESS and the Guardian Project have been talking about collaborating for awhile now, we really kicked off our formal collaboration at the 2010 OVC. Last year’s conference was made up of three parts, the first being a discussion of the problems and risks of having human rights video online, the second a brainstorming workshop around how to address these issues, and finally a hack day in which we actually sat down and built a rough prototype of a facial recognition app on an Android phone.
This year we hope to showcase the work that’s been done over the past year. The risks we discussed last year haven’t gone away and have only been highlighted further with the videos that have come out of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. We’d like to continue this discussion and re-check our assumptions as well as get feedback from the OVC community that will help us as we continue development.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish?
We hope we’ll have made some significant progress on the app and that we’ll be able to have people test it out. We’d also like to continue the dialog we started at the 2010 OVC.
Q. What are some challenges you’re expecting?
Right now the ObscuraCam only works on stills. Video may be difficult, but we’re optimistic.
Q. What are the ultimate wishes for this project? Where would you like to see it in
two years time?
Ultimately we hope that the work we do with the SecureSmartCam project is adopted by more people, that the concepts of visual privacy, informed consent, and basic human rights ideals are good for everyone and that this thinking finds its way into the design of technologies beyond SSC.
Bryan has told us that development of the next version of ObscuraCam is moving along and will be more robust with plans to feature options such as video support. The next version is tentatively entitled “InformaCam.”