Every day, millions of smartphone cameras give us a glimpse into the terror of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Within minutes, ordinary citizens are uploading grim images and videos via social media and messaging apps, prompting calls for accountability for the perpetrators of obvious war crimes.
However compelling and clear they may be, there is no guarantee that these records will be admissible in court.
Jonathan Dotan will appear on the "Big Ideas" stage at the Consensus Festival on June 10, 2022.
The journey of these digital bits from camera lens to presentation before a judge is complex, lengthy, and often fraught with risk. The tools used to manipulate digital media are easy to use and as ubiquitous as the devices used to capture them.
Given the dwindling trust in digital media in the age of "fake news," even the judiciary is not immune to the existential problems of the Internet. Our justified distrust of digital platforms has put digital evidence on shaky ground. We often no longer believe what we see. Bad actors have used our skepticism as a weapon. This is the vicious endgame of a decades-long cyberwar.
The need to restore digital trust is obvious. The good news is that with the advent of mature Web 3 technologies, a viable solution is coming into view.
Far from the hype and controversy surrounding the crypto world, we see the maturation of tools like blockchains and distributed ledgers as an opportunity to create a new technical, normative, and legal understanding of digital integrity.
The documentation of war crimes in Ukraine highlights how these types of Web 3 technologies can help create an immutable chain of custody by protecting provenance and privacy.
Using these open source tools and best practices, our team at Starling Lab has developed a framework for securely capturing, storing, and reviewing digital content to address the technical and ethical challenges of building trust in digital records from Ukraine.
Our new workflows seamlessly integrate L1 and L2 protocols, NFTs, and secure hardware wallets to create an end-to-end and immutable Web 3 solution that can secure digital evidence. These elements are essentially the new building blocks of digital authenticity. Taken together, they are a compelling example of how Web 3 enables end users to assemble solutions via new secure digital protocols.
While the underlying technology is complex, the goals of the framework are simple:
- Capture - register and seal digital content and its metadata at the time of capture.
- Store - Manage content using cryptography and store it on decentralized networks.
- Verify - record attestations from experts who evaluate and verify content.
Our solution has already begun cryptographically authenticating and preserving thousands of records of open-source information from messenger apps, social media, and websites documenting war crimes, as well as creating immutable records of fact-checkers' analyses.
By providing an interface to this next generation of technology, we hope to help courts overcome the challenges of admitting evidence in the midst of a fierce cyberwar, as well as stay ahead of emerging digital threats.
Of course, much work remains to be done. Courts acknowledge they need help. The accountability project in Ukraine will require a mix of quick action and patience, as justice is likely to drag on through many instances and take decades.
Such a long-term commitment to accountability requires that we face many challenges, but also anticipate the least understood technical challenges. We believe that all stakeholders will rise to this challenge by accelerating their own plans and pushing courts to modernize outdated protocols.
This is a rare moment when cutting-edge technologies and methodologies can be reimagined and safely adopted as enduring solutions to accountability in our digital age in Ukraine - and beyond.