How can activists use video safely?

8 tips for shooting better video with your smartphone
8 tips for shooting better video with your smartphone
August 31, 2017
Automated Video - more video with less effort
Automated Video – more video with less effort
September 28, 2017

Video is a powerful tool that can help activists to protect and defend human rights. But it can also be a source of information for oppressors, putting in danger not only the video activist but everyone around him. In this article, I’ll give you some clues on how you can use video ethically and effectively to create a positive impact.


If you are really going to use it in potentially dangerous situations, I suggest you to also check the website, as they have more in-depth information about security and legal uses of video.

1. Prepare yourself

Learn your rights before you hit record. This may vary from city-to-city, so find out more about what and how you can legally film.

2. Assess risk

First, make sure you and the people around you are safe. If it is too dangerous, simply don’t film.

Then, consider the implications if the video is shared online. Will you and the subjects filmed be safe? Do you need to conceal identities?

3. Safety tips

Basic protection

If you are filming with your smartphone, remember that the calls and the smartphone’s location can be traced through the mobile network provider and GPS applications. So, if you are in an unsafe situation, disable those apps and turn off the phone (with the battery removed) if not in use.

Protect your contacts

If there is the risk of having your phone confiscated, encrypt or delete your data (contact names, text messages, call logs, media files, …).

Protecting your media

Keep your media card safe:

  • Swap it out with a blank card, hiding the original one (locked with write-protection);
  • Back it up immediately to a external drive (without processing the video);
  • Upload it to a secure server (if you can connect safely to the internet);
  • And, if you are going to share it publicly, upload it immediately to YouTube, Twitter or Facebook.

Concealing the identity of the subject

Depending on how and where the video will be used, anonymity might be needed:

  • Film their hands while they speak, blur the image/face or film their silhouette;
  • In post-production, distort the audio to conceal their voice and any other identifying sounds;
  • Do not film any marks that might identify them (such as tattoos or scars);
  • Make sure you delete any metadata that might be attached to the video and that might reveal identifying information (who filmed, where and when it was filmed, …).

4. Obtain informed consent from the subject

Explain to the interviewee the purpose of the video and how it will be used and shared. Record them giving on-camera consent and explaining in their own words how the video will be used.

Note that they can opt-out or choose to conceal their identity.

5. In case you are live streaming

Live streaming can help you distributing urgent and important news, in challenging human rights and humanitarian situations. Plus, it guarantees you that, in some situations, the video actually gets to the public, before the camera is confiscated.

However, it also raises safety concerns about the video activist and those he is filming. Since the police might target livestreamers first (because they have a camera) and they might also use the video to identify protesters identities, tactics, …


6. When documenting human rights violations for legal purposes

Make sure to record What crime was committed, Who committed the crime and How the perpetrator committed the crime.

Unless there are security risks, ensure your camera or cell phone is set to the correct date, time and GPS location so the digital metadata is recorded. Sometimes is a good idea to film an object that might give a clue of the date and location, like a newspaper’s front page.

If necessary, write a summary information, often referred to as a “Camera Report” (this includes: date, time and location; names and contact information on who filmed and who was filmed; a summary of what is shown in the video; and any safety information or security limitations).


As you see, there are a lot of tactics that can keep you safe and guarantee that you register what is important in each different situation. If you need more info on using video as evidence of human rights abuses, check this guides.

Information to add, when uploading your video to YouTube

  • Title: It should be short and include: the date, the city and country, and some key words about it’s content. Also, reduce the possibility of the removal of the video, by writing: “Includes Human Rights Imagery”.
  • Description: It should be factual and include: the date, the specific location, and a summary of what is happens in the video. It can also help to briefly explain the context in which this video was recorder. If it’s safe, include the organization’s name and contact information.
  • Tags: You should include: the date, the city and country, and unbiased and factual key words that describe the content.
  • Copyright: You can select a Creative Commons license to increase the chances of your video being remixed and downloaded by others.

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