RB209: Crisis Spotting (Drone Humanitarianism II)

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What if you could witness a crime taking place from space, and even step in to prevent it?

A group of researchers at Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative are trying to do exactly that.

As the nation of Sudan faced a complex crisis — a secession of the southern region that threatened to boil over into a civil war in 2011 — Nathaniel Raymond and his team at The Signal Program were carefully monitoring the conflict.

Their methods were uncommon. Using donated satellite imagery — the kind normally used to observe environmental conditions or create maps — the team tracked the movements of troops, military vehicles, and resources in near real-time, and used that information to alert humanitarian groups on the ground.

But it’s a process fraught with challenges, from imperfect imagery (imagine a cloud passing by just as you’re trying to spot tank movements), to the ethical questions that come with intervening in a conflict remotely.

So how does a group of civilians at Harvard go about monitoring an unfolding humanitarian disaster from space?

Our producer Frances Harlow spent a day with the team at the Signal Program to find out how they work.

(Click to find other episodes in our Drone Humanitarianism series!)

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RB207: Hacking Censorship (Drone Humanitarianism I)

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The Internet exists and persists on the border between helpful and harmful, between freedom and totalitarianism, access to knowledge and censorship.

But as long as technology is adaptable activists will be learning and creating workarounds to spread information and promote change.

Enter the Circumvention Tools Hackfest, a four-day bonanza of coders and freedom lovers gathered together to build and improve applications to help activists in repressive regimes get around censorship and surveillance.

Correspondent Becky Kazansky attended the Hackfest to find out what kind of tools these “hackers” cooked up. As part of our new series — Drone Humanitarianism: Harnessing Technology to Remotely Solve and Prevent Crisis — she filed this report.

(Click to follow our Drone Humanitarianism series!)

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