activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: youtube face-blurring tool

anaheim police chief says department will review protest videos online to find lawbreakers

Recent police shootings in Anaheim, California ignited protests that have continued for five consecutive days. The protests began on Saturday afternoon when an officer fatally shot an unarmed 25-year-old man, first in the back as he attempted to flee and then in the back of the head. When angry residents took to the street in response, officers attacked them with pepper spray, beanbag rounds, and at least one police dog.

On Tuesday, some of the protesters threw rocks and bottles at police cars, set fires, spray-painted businesses, and broke storefront windows. Officers in riot gear dispersed the crowd with batons, pepper spray, and beanbag rounds. At least 24 people were arrested.

Police Chief John Welter said the Anaheim Police Depatment would review video footage posted online to identify the protesters who broke the law. Now that YouTube offers uploaders the option of blurring faces in videos, that strategy could be less fruitful than it has been after previous uprisings. Regardless, activists can be confident that the risk of government forces monitoring internet videos to identify them isn’t hypothetical.

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youtube offers users new option of blurring faces to protect dissidents in videos

After years of lobbying from activists, YouTube launched a tool today that makes it the first video-sharing site to allow uploaders to blur the faces of people in videos. According to a YouTube policy associate, uploaders may “want to share sensitive protest footage without exposing the faces of the activists involved.” This is because government forces monitor internet videos to identify protesters, which can result in arrests, imprisonment, or even torture.

Uploaders who select the new feature can review what a video will look like with the faces blurred, to make sure dissidents are sufficiently obscured. The face-blurring tool is not yet sophisticated enough to be applied selectively to specific people. Once the change to the video is saved, the original video may be deleted, in which case it will be permanently gone from YouTube’s servers.

Google, which owns YouTube, warns that blurring faces does not guarantee anonymity:

Video footage of your face is not the only way someone can detect your identity. Other factors that may be caught on video can also identify you or your subjects. Watch out for vocal identifiers, like recognizable voices or saying someone’s name on camera. Other footage can give away identity like a license plate, a name tag, or even the background scenery. Make sure that the imagery in your videos does not give away information about your location or identity.

Regardless, this is an important new development to help activists protect themselves and their communities.