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THE SIGNAL PROGRAM ON HUMAN SECURITY AND TECHNOLOGY
The Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at HHI utilizes the latest information and satellite technologies to conduct research and education projects that seek to understand how these technologies can be employed to protect vulnerable populations affected by both human and natural disasters. Signal was established to explore how technology can be used to document and prevent threats to human rights and human security around the world by bringing together leading technologists, organizations, and practitioners to develop innovation for the human security of vulnerable populations.
At the MIT Build Peace Conference in April 2014, the Signal Program and colleagues discussed the urgent need for comprehensive technical and ethical standards to guide the use of information communication technologies, including remote sensing, in human rights contexts. This white paper was a companion to the working group session, Current Challenges: Information Communication Technologies for Human Rights Documentation.
The Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has released its first study, Sudan: Anatomy of a Conflict.
This study is the first geospatial data-based history of a conflict created primarily through a fusion of remote sensing and previously public event reports. The researchers of the Signal Program spent many months cross-referencing and analyzing over 40,000 square kilometers of archival satellite imagery of Sudan with more than 2,000 published reports of incidents occurring between January 2011 and mid-2012.
Key findings of the study include evidence of the apparent intentional destruction of more than 2,000 civilian dwellings and other structures; the intentional targeting and destruction of four humanitarian facilities; identification of specific armed actors, units, and chains-of-command allegedly involved in specific attacks in Sudan; and evidence of the mass displacement of civilian populations.
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"Problems from Hell, Solutions in the Heavens?: Identifying Obstacles and Opportunities for Employing Geospatial Technologies to Document and Mitigate Mass Atrocities" Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, October 2013
"How Did 7,000 Sudanese Disappear in 2011?" Global Post, August 2013
"Is There a Human Right to Information During Disasters?" Global Observatory, August 2013
"While We Watched: Assessing the Impact of the Satellite Sentinel Project" Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, July 2013
"The Case Against Humanitarian Drones" Open Canada, December 12, 2012
"Crisis Mapping Needs an Ethical Compass" Global Brief, February 6, 2012
"Choosing Our Own Reckoning: Why Crisis Mapping Must Professionalize Itself" HPCR, December 13, 2012
"Crisis Spotting" Berkman Center for Internet & Society Podcast, November 9, 2012
"USAID Mass Atrocity Prevention Tech Challenge Winners" USAID, March 2012
"Developing Ethical Guidelines for the Use of Digital Data in Civil Society" (Forthcoming) Hosted by Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University and Co-Sponsored by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and the Brown Institute, Columbia University School of Journalism, September 2014
"Current Challenges: Information Communication Technologies for Human Rights Documentation" Build Peace Conference MIT, April 2014
"Generating, Analyzing, and Using Information from Hard to Access Areas" International Conference of Crisis Mappers, November 2013
"Using Technology to Fight Atrocities" Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies, November 2013
"Data Rights" Poptech Conference, October 2013
"GRID: A Methodology for Remote Corroboration of Alleged Mass Graves" University of Manchester, September 2013
"Humanitarianism in the Networked Age: How Communication Techologies are Transforming Humanitarian Response" International Peace Institute and UNOCHA, April 2013
Through its participation in the Satellite Sentinel Project, HHI contributed to a watershed moment in the development of “protective humanitarian” technologies by employing the strategic collection and targeted presentation of data to deter and prevent mass atrocities. Nearly three dozen faculty, staff, and student interns worked at HHI to analyze satellite imagery and collect, catalogue and interpret reports from Sudan. HHI’s work for SSP related to the crisis in Sudan marked the first sustained, public effort to systematically monitor and report on potential hotspots and threats to security along a border. The training, methodology and tools designed by HHI for SSP are scalable so that they may be used in a diversity of rapid response, human rights, and human security contexts. The implications of this work are far-reaching; the methods and lessons learned during this period led to the creation of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at HHI.
Increasingly, institutions and individuals are using information communication technologies (ICT) and other tools to respond to complex humanitarian disasters. Signal provides teaching and research in the analysis of satellite imagery and the use of other data sources. It serves as a convener of experts to explore the development of ethics and standards in the use of these technologies for civilian protection. Additionally, Signal provides a forum for the discussion of innovative research methods designed to assess the impact of this analysis on the decision making process of key stakeholders.
III. Developing standardized procedures, and technological tools and platforms for the collection and dissemination of near real-time data and analysis through remote sensing and information communication technologies (ICT)
IV. Convening leading experts to facilitate the development of standards and ethics in the use of technology for civilian protection
Imagery Analysis Manager
Data Analysis Coordinator
SIGNAL PROGRAM FELLOWS
Michael Hughes, PhD Candidate, Brown University
Michael Hughes is a graduate student in computer science at Brown University, specializing in machine learning and computer vision. As a Harvard Humanitarian Initiative fellow, he applies computer vision algorithms to automate satellite image damage assessment for conflict-affected areas. Mike holds a M.S. in computer science from Brown and a B.S. from Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (Class of 2010). He is gratefully supported by a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship.