Can Filecoin Be The Storage Network for Human Rights Data?
Every single day, human rights violations occur around the world. But unfortunately, those events go unnoticed by many, which makes accountability more challenging.
The Human Rights Data Analysis Group, or HRDAG, leverages statistics to ensure that attention is paid to human rights violations across the globe. HRDAG is not advocates, nor do they explicitly take sides in political or military conflicts, but are scientists collecting data and producing objective results to ensure that their partners — advocates and human-rights defenders — present the most accurate truth possible. Their highest purpose is to promote accountability for human rights violations, by discovering as best as we can the truth behind those violations.
Compiling data on human rights abuses can be dangerous. And once that data is aggregated, there may be actors within the government or military groups that want it taken down, removed, and cast back into relative obscurity. That data can’t just end up in the hands of anyone; it needs to be kept in digital storage where it will not be at risk of takedown requests or censorship. Enter the decentralized Web (DWeb), which aims to preserve humanity’s most important information and continue to make it public and accessible for all to access - especially human-rights defenders and advocates.
To learn more about what HRDAG does, why it’s critical to preserve their data and statistical analyses, and how Filecoin helps them to do so, we spoke with Patrick Ball, Ph.D., Director of Research at HRDAG.
What is a specific issue/challenge that initiated your interest in the adoption of DWeb technologies?
In building databases and conducting statistical research, you must take the proper steps to protect data, especially on a topic as sensitive as human rights. When I started doing human rights work in 1991, I was using encryption; back then, it was illegal to export encryption technology because the government argued about the dangers of using cryptography, as bad actors were using it. Today, that argument still exists, making it more paramount to implement technologies ensuring security and privacy.
In more than 30 years of doing this work and teaching it to people in dozens of countries, I've learned that even when people have information that is literally life or death, they are still unwilling to take steps outside their normal process to protect it. People are generally very technology-averse and wary of adding layers of complexity to an already established system. We can all conclude that security, resilience and redundancy are all critical, but no action will be taken until we incorporate them into the existing steps. I have a habit of saying, “you can’t sell the spinach,” meaning that even if someone needs to eat more veggies, they will continue to eat pizza because it’s habitual, delicious and easy.
Human-rights advocates are mission-driven people; you must have something new and exciting to get them on the hook. Privacy and redundancy are important topics, but a different purpose drives our partners. We don’t want to distract them; we want to support their advocacy goals. This is why I am drawn toward dWeb technologies.
Can you share a bit more about how you are working with Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW)?
We have a couple of ways we are using Filecoin and working with FFDW. First, HRDAG is full of nerds. We are nerds for fun, we do math for fun, and we want to use Filecoin for all the standard nerd reasons: resilience, redundancy, security, efficiency, and more. We’ve built numerous databases over the years, and now we’ve been able to upload those onto the Filecoin network and monitor the extent to which people click on the links. So far, there hasn’t been much uptake, and clicks are maybe in the medium dozens. But, we’re not here to be viral; we’re here to lay down the scientific facts. Our partners know that if they get information and numbers from us, they are true and accurate.
We’re also very excited about the ecosystem of the Filecoin network and all the different kinds of applications people are building on the network. What can we do with chain of custody, for example? Filecoin enables us to capture data at the point of collection and put it directly into a system that enables chain of custody analysis to ensure security for the rest of time. In the old days, we were using digital signatures. But nobody did it, and we didn’t have the workflows to enable it. Now, blockchain-enabled systems make the process trivial. Moving forward, we are interested in what people are building to determine what will work and be truly valuable in the long term.
Since the initial announcement of FFDW and HRDAG’s collaboration in December 2021, what kind of progress have you seen in terms of outreach or organizations using decentralized web tools?
We have finished the first year of a three-year outreach process to teach our partner organizations around the world about dWeb tools and Filecoin. We must ask questions to determine what our partners want and whether using Filecoin to store human rights data is a good idea. That’s where we are right now.
We have to be careful to be problem-driven, not solution-driven. There are a lot of tools out there for ensuring a chain of custody of valuable information when two big corporations are battling in court, but those same tools don’t exist for an independent journalist in a remote village documenting human-rights atrocities. We believe that Filecoin could be that tool, but we have to figure out what people want and what they will respond to if we offer them DWeb opportunities.
At FFDW, our mission is to permanently preserve humanity’s most important information. There is no data more important for humanity to learn – nor one so frequently erased from our collective memory – thanthe lessons recorded by past and present human rights violations. We look forward to continuing our work with HRDAG and its partners to advance their advocacy goals with the control, preservation, and security they require.