Search Mailing List Archives

Limit search to: Subject & Body Subject Author
Sort by: Reverse Sort
Limit to: All This Week Last Week This Month Last Month
Select Date Range     through    

[liberationtech] Drones for Human Rights

Nabiha Syed nabiha.syed at
Thu Feb 2 16:28:30 PST 2012

It* is* surprising that it's not more widespread already, right? But it is
getting more and more popular --the Drone Journalism
Lab<>is trying to encourage the
use of drones, and I believe the
Occupy folks<>have
been using drones to monitor their encampments recently, too.

As shameless self-promotion, I'll be interviewing Mickey
Osterreicher<!/nppalawyer>of the National Press
Photographers Association about surveillance drones
and drone journalism for the Harvard Law and Policy Review blog -- I'd be
happy to share the link once it's up!


Nabiha Syed
First Amendment Fellow
The New York Times Company
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
nabiha.syed at | 212.556.5187

On Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 7:20 PM, Yosem Companys <companys at>wrote:

> A group of Stanford students pitched this idea for a startup 8 years ago!
>  And yet no one is doing it yet?
> YC
> **********************
> January 30, 2012
> Drones for Human Rights
> DRONES are not just for firing missiles in Pakistan. In Iraq, the State
> Department is using them to watch for threats to Americans. It’s time we
> used the revolution in military affairs to serve human rights advocacy.
> With drones, we could take clear pictures and videos of human rights
> abuses, and we could start with Syria.
> The need there is even more urgent now, because the Arab League’s observers
> suspended operations last week.
> They fled the very violence they were trying to monitor. Drones could
> replace them, and could even go to some places the observers, who were
> escorted and restricted by the government, could not see. This we know: the
> Syrian government isn’t just fighting rebels, as it claims; it is shooting
> unarmed protesters, and has been doing so for months. Despite a ban on news
> media, much of the violence is being caught on camera by ubiquitous
> cellphones. The footage is shaky and the images grainy, but still they make
> us YouTube witnesses.
> Imagine if we could watch in high definition with a bird’s-eye view. A
> drone would let us count demonstrators, gun barrels and pools of blood. And
> the evidence could be broadcast for a global audience, including diplomats
> at the United Nations and prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.
> Drones are increasingly small, affordable and available to nonmilitary
> buyers. For hundreds of thousands of dollars — no longer many millions — a
> surveillance drone could be flying over protests and clashes in Syria.
> An environmental group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has reported
> that it is using drones to monitor illegal Japanese whaling in the waters
> of the Southern Hemisphere. In the past few years, human-rights groups and
> the actor and activist George Clooney, among others, have purchased
> satellite imagery of conflict zones. Drones can see even more clearly, and
> broadcast in real time.
> We could record the repression in Syria with unprecedented precision and
> scope. The better the evidence, the clearer the crimes, the higher the
> likelihood that the world would become as outraged as it should be.
> This sounds a lot like surveillance, and it would be. It would violate
> Syrian airspace, and perhaps a number of Syrian and international laws. It
> isn’t the kind of thing nongovernmental organizations usually do. But it is
> very different from what governments and armies do. Yes, we (like them)
> have an agenda, but ours is transparent: human rights. We have a duty,
> recognized internationally, to monitor governments that massacre their own
> people in large numbers. Human rights organizations have always done this.
> Why not get drones to assist the good work?
> It may be illegal in the Syrian government’s eyes, but supporting Nelson
> Mandela in South Africa was deemed illegal during the apartheid era. To fly
> over Syria’s territory may violate official norms of international
> relations, but governments do this when they support opposition groups with
> weapons, money or intelligence, as NATO countries did recently in Libya. In
> any event, violations of Syrian sovereignty would be the direct consequence
> of the Syrian state’s brutality, not the imperialism of outsiders.
> There are some obvious risks and downsides to the drone approach. The
> Syrian government would undoubtedly seize the opportunity to blame a
> foreign conspiracy for its troubles. Local operators of the drones could be
> at risk, though a higher-end drone could be controlled from a remote
> location or a neighboring country.
> Such considerations figured in conversations we have had with human rights
> organizations that considered hiring drones in Syria, but opted in the end
> for supplying protesters with phones, satellite modems and safe houses. For
> nearly a year now, brave amateurs with their tiny cameras arguably have
> been doing the trick in Syria. In those circumstances, the value that a
> drone could add might not be worth the investment and risks.
> Even if humanitarian drones are not used in Syria, they should assume their
> place in the arsenal of human rights advocates. It is a precedent worth
> setting, especially in situations where evidence of large-scale human
> rights violations is hard to come by.
> Drones can reach places and see things cell phones cannot. Social media did
> not document the worst of the genocide in the remote villages of Darfur in
> 2003 and 2004. Camera-toting protesters could not enter the fields where
> 8,000 men and boys were massacred in Srebrenica in 1995. Graphic and
> detailed evidence of crimes against humanity does not guarantee a just
> response, but it helps.
> If human rights organizations can spy on evil, they should.
> *Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Mark Hanis are co-founders of the Genocide
> Intervention Network.*
> _______________________________________________
> liberationtech mailing list
> liberationtech at
> Should you need to change your subscription options, please go to:
> If you would like to receive a daily digest, click "yes" (once you click
> above) next to "would you like to receive list mail batched in a daily
> digest?"
> You will need the user name and password you receive from the list
> moderator in monthly reminders.
> Should you need immediate assistance, please contact the list moderator.
> Please don't forget to follow us on!/Liberationtech

More information about the liberationtech mailing list