Evidence That Survives Time

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From war crimes to war crime tribunals and war commemorations, how do we guarantee that content is available to play? I introduced the concept of streaming’s chain of custody in my Streams of Thought column, Do Our Technology Advances Slow Down Justice? It touched on the proliferation of streaming content during times of turmoil—civil and military unrest and natural disasters—and whether we run the risk of being overwhelmed by that torrent of visual data in chasing down crimes against humanity.

As I write this current column, there’s been an additional wrinkle, as social media audio and video streams are being used in the coverage of Russia’s Wagner revolt, further confusing an already confusing situation. This adds to the narrative in which I ended that previous column: How does the industry approach proper archival and chain-of-custody issues so there’s no bottleneck in bringing justice in time for victims to know it’s been properly meted out?

On the one hand, there’s the carrot aspect of proper archiving: Moments that define history are often resurrected on anniversaries and key memorial event dates—although it’s very tricky to do in social media platforms that don’t have audio and video searchability functions built in, meaning that it falls to content creators or content owners to generate their own archives. On the other hand, there’s the stick: We archive the content as an overarching line toward justice and remembrance as to how events unfolded.

The combination of these two approaches also runs into a practical matter: How do we archive key historic content in a way that’s not only secured for the chain of custody to confirm veracity of content but also make it available in formats that can be viewed by the ordinary global citizen? That’s a significant amount of ground to cover in a short column, but let’s hit two highlights here.

First, I’d highly recommend a series of articles by Doug Wyllie, web editor of Police1 and former editor of Streaming magazine, around the concept of solving the challenge of evidence management. Wyllie’s number-one piece of advice for domestic law-enforcement chain of custody? “Agencies must ensure that video evidence—particularly video that was not collected by the on-officer camera—has not been doctored or edited."
Second, the National Archives provides key considerations for tape-based video formats and includes a subsection called Sustaining Digital Files, which points out several key steps in digital file format preservation.

Beyond chain of custody, evidence management, and long-term formats, there’s a bigger picture that needs to be considered: How do we handle replay of content in a way that brings back the in-real-time sense of an event unfolding, without making it either academic or pedantic, so that future generations don’t approach seminal moments with either a sense of boredom or complacency based on the mundaneness of watching a linear event elongated across multiple isolated audio or video clips?

In other words, how do we present the content as accurate and uncurated, while also providing it through the lens of newer interactivity and synchronisation tools, which allow simultaneous viewing of content from the various angles, camera types, media types, and formats used to capture an overall landscape of an event as it transpired?

A reader might jump to the augmented reality or virtual reality technologies now available, but having been involved in several pioneering projects around synchronisation, I think we’re still several steps behind where we could be in bringing history back to life. I’ll explore those in my next column.

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