As we have seen over the last 10 years, access to portable video devices has risen in the US as well as the world over. In 2014 alone, video footage of police brutality and homicide have overturned arrests and brought charges to those responsible. Often, human rights violations and atrocities are now being recorded by observers and activists who want their footage to be seen. WITNESS, a leading documentation advocacy organization, has produced a readily accessible document for how-to-film and archive footage for preservation and access.
Recently, head archivist and co-author of the Witness video archive, Yvonne NG, was interviewed on Democracy Now! regarding the most recent police brutality incidents in New York City and Ferguson, MO being promoted on social media.
Resources from Witness: http://witness.org/resources/
Thanks to diligent journalism and investigation at the Guardian, recent breaking news on the National Security Agency’s data mining of Verizon phone records is out in the open. But can we as users do anything about it? Surveilling journalist’s telephone calls and sequestering records of Verizon subscribers sounds like a major violation of constitutional rights in the United States…Well, it’s not. What everyday users of cell phones believe to be relevant information transferred over the phone is technically protected, however raw data of the call itself – 101001 – is not. The Bush Administration’s initiation of the War on Terror and the tide of privacy legislation that came with it continues as the old war measures acts have been used to justify data collection in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.
From an archival standpoint, a major concern lies in the potentially lucrative contracts which the NSA and private phone companies make in order to exchange call logs for network dominance. Arguably, phone companies which record call logs have the largest collection of involuntary census data ever recorded. The collusion between the world’s largest surveillance organization (NSA/CIA) and potentially the world’s broadest data transfer company (Verizon) challenges uses of everyday communication and re-frames what counts as “relevant” information. The embedded metadata within digital call logs has use-value from individualized surveillance to big data monitoring of towns and neighborhoods. The early 21st century fears about micro-chipping and the New World Order got it half right, things have data trails. The other half revolves around accountable data collection and consent based records creation. To extrapolate from the census record, this information is very important for historians, health research, sociological data, etc.; however, the right to opt out is always present. Through privatized cell-towers and data plans, the company owns your record as well as your rights to say no to data collection. When telecommunications signs away the users right to be recorded to the NSA, profit based record creation in late capitalism has dire implications for privacy.
The inherently decentralized and accessible nature of the internet has provided activists and underground press the ability to make their voices heard, requiring nothing more than a computer and a connection. Admittedly a little over naive, the potential for the Internet as an organizational structure has new channels for empowerment. As an academic research institution such as ours at UConn, we face challenges in attempting to document the digital documentarians. While we have one of the largest Alternative Press Collections in the country, our ability to capture tweets, status updates and blog rolls is limited. One important distinction to make regarding digital representation versus physical is the utter impermanence of these sources, particularly in an un(der)funded enterprise as many activist groups and presses are. Arguably, the physical print is also impermanent but the comparative longevity of print to a blogger site is quite drastic. The philosophical archival dimensions of thinking about these kinds of challenges remains rooted in the theory foundations which have transcended evolutions in media. A temporary remedy to this current problem in documenting underground press is to provide links to the digital representations of prominent sources and accessible organizations with a broad base.
I have updated the Library Guide on Introducing the Alternative Press Collection, by including a tab of Radical Internet Sources. This list is as imperfect as any sampling of the internet can be, however it will be continually updated and perpetually becoming. For an insightful view of the web’s virtual empowerment, see Lewis Call’s Postmodern Anarchism (Boston; Lexington Books, 2002).