In digital fight for justice, Birgit Cakir, δημοσίευση στο Ars Electronica Blog [10/3/2023]
Cyber tools against environmental crimes: For those who love the truth, we make digital investigation methods available at Citizen Science Days.
With citizen intelligence each of us can contribute from home to get on the track of grievances or crimes. After all, broad civilian attention establishes a difficult framework for breaking the law and can, under certain circumstances, prevent serious consequences. During the Citizen Science Days, the Ars Electronica Center therefore offers a series of exciting workshops that give future whistleblowers the opportunity to equip themselves with the necessary skills and tools. In this way, they not only investigate environmental crimes, but also violations of data protection or political grievances.
An incredible discovery has already been made at an first Citizen Science workshop: While looking for signs of an unfortunately quite common environmental crime, a suspicious trace on the sea surface off the Black Sea coast of Romania pointed the participants to an oil spill, which in combination with further tools could even provide first clues to the possible polluters. We spoke with Phillip Gartlehner, Infotrainer and initiator of the Toolbox for Civil Investigation workshop series, about the investigative methods, the major goals and initial successes of this initiative.
Phil, what motivates you, how did you come up with the idea for this workshop? How do you know about all these useful digital tools?
Phil Gartlehner: Although the pollution of the world’s oceans is one of the most pressing environmental problems worldwide, only a vanishingly small part of the world’s population has so far committed itself to active marine protection. Many of us feel helpless or consider our personal scope for action to be too limited. While we like to pass on the responsibility to politicians, we are usually not aware enough that we ourselves can be part of the solution. With the Citizen Science Days we want to invite people to see themselves as future creators.
We learned about the idea of using open source sources like satellite imagery or sensor data, webcams and also methods like geolocation or chronolocation from the investigative research group Bellingcat. It explains very well in its posts how it conducts the research and which sources it uses. On the one hand, it’s enormously exciting, and on the other, it’s educational. But we got the idea about the oil slicks through Skytruth. This is an NGO that deals with this topic, among other things, and now even uses its AI model ‘Cerulean’ to automatically search for oil spills.
The tools in our digital toolbox that we use in our workshops at the Citizen Science Days at the Ars Electronica Center are not new to many NGOs or journalists. We simply try out the methods and tools ourselves together with the participants – without AI, but with Citizen Intelligence.
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