Sensors / Bryan Nunez on Informacam

Bryan Nunez is the Technology Manager at WITNESS. Bryan joined WITNESS in 2002. He oversees technology for the organization as well as the development of projects like the Hub, a site for citizen human rights media, and the Secure Smart Cam, a camera-phone app for human rights activists. Prior to WITNESS, he was a technology strategist and consultant on a variety of projects ranging from online banking to interactive television. He is an alumnus of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU and has a BA in anthropology from UC Berkeley.

Sensors are everywhere, and not just in places where they’ve been deployed by researchers. We text, email, and chat on them everyday. Our smartphones are wired with all kinds of sensing tools—GPS, audio, video, and more—and we carry them in our pockets wherever we go.

Bryan Nunez and his colleagues at Informacam recognized this, and came up with a smart plan to leverage it. They programmed an app that would tag any media it took—photos, videos, audio—with metadata, so that the validity of the recorded thing would be certified. “I guess we’re sort of taking a more traditional journalistic approach to this idea of sensor journalism,” he told the crowd during his lightning talk. “Most of the projects we’ve seen so far are thinking beyond traditional journalism with using sensors to actually generate the content for stories. We’re looking at sensors to verify and validate what traditional media has collected in the course of journalism.”

The endeavor is important, Nunez said, because there is a lot of media being produced in the world right now, much of it citizen generated.

In every piece of media, there is a type of device that took the video or image, someone who took it, and what’s actually in it. If you’re going to use it for evidence, Nunez asked, how do you determine the chain of custody from collection to submission, in some sort of legal setting?

Informacam is one approach. What happens is when you take a photo, Informacam creates a digital fingerprint that signs the media collected. Sensors are turned on—GPS sensors, wireless, etc.—and metadata is collected and embedded into the file itself. An extra layer of security is added, too—when the data is transmitted to the secure server, it is encrypted.

But Nunez said that ultimately, it is not important to their team that Informacam as an app succeeds. He’d rather see the development of a standard, like the one the team developed. They dubbed it J3M (for JSON Evidentiary Mobile Media Metadata Standard). The standard the group envisions will make the metadata captured with mobile phones and other devices interoperable and human-readable. It could also work on platforms like YouTube.

“[That] goes beyond this use of media as evidence, but provides future ways of telling interactive stories using metadata and geo-temporal data,” Nunez said. “You can use video for multiple viewpoints, etc.”