Satellites have long been used for good and ill but never before have they been marshaled to help prevent human rights abuses and political violence — before they happen. But that’s the aim of a project that involves the UN, Google, Harvard and a non-profit organization called Not On Our Watch, co-founded by US actor George Clooney. The objective of what’s being called “The Satellite Sentinel Project” is to monitor and thereby prevent anticipated violence expected to coincide with a vote in Sudan about whether to split the country into two: north and south.
The project is the brainchild of Clooney, who has been active in Darfur relief efforts. Drawing an analogy to the Hollywood culture of intrusive celebrity gossip photographers, “paparazzi,” Clooney sees the new satellite project as a kind of “Anti-genocide paparazzi.” The idea is that violence can potentially be prevented if the would-be perpetrators know that these satellites are watching and collecting potential evidence that could later be used in criminal actions against them.
According to Reuters:
Under the project, commercial satellites over northern and southern Sudan will photograph any burned and bombed villages, mass movements of people, or other evidence of violence. The United Nations’ UNOSAT program will collect and analyze the images, Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative will provide research, more analysis and corroboration from field reports from the anti-genocide Enough Project, Google and Trellon Llc, an Internet development firm, designed a Web platform for public access to information with the goal of pressuring Sudanese officials and other groups.
I’m reminded of Google’s “Transparency Report,” which shows government requests to censor or remove content from its index.
These sorts of efforts to shine more light on undesirable government behavior and criminal activity can have a material impact over time. We’ll have to see of course whether The Satellite Sentinel Project and the idea of being photographed can successfully act as a deterrent to human rights abuses in Sudan, which has been ravaged by genocide and ongoing ethnic and sectarian violence.