Now there’s a new frontier. To bolster the kind of war-crimes evidence that has not always proved easy to admit to international courts, a group is looking to the technology behind cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
The project, which comes out of the Starling Lab and is backed by Stanford University and the University of Southern California, is using decentralizing technologies to ensure that visual evidence that is being gathered and uploaded in Ukraine doesn’t fall victim to the evidence-collection missteps of war crimes past. The project — which boasts human rights experts and former government officials among its leaders — hopes to use blockchain technology as well as other tools to ensure that evidence isn’t lost, challenged or corrupted by those who want the alleged crimes of the Russian invasion force covered up.
“Technology offers us so many more tools to go after perpetrators than we’ve ever had before,” said Jonathan Dotan, a former lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, staffer at the Stanford School of Engineering and a writer on the streaming show “Silicon Valley” who co-founded the Starling Lab. “Unfortunately, the perpetrators have much better tools too. So we need to fight back as hard as we can.”
Joining Dotan is John Jaeger, a former State Department employee who founded Hala, a private company funded by the U.S. government that uses artificial intelligence to gather unencrypted intelligence in war zones; Graham Brookie, who runs the Atlantic Council’s tech-minded Digital Forensic Research Lab; and Stephen Smith, a British genocide scholar and the former executive director of USC’s Shoah Foundation, who has pioneered holographic testimony that he now oversees at a company called Storyfile.
Their hope is that some of the same technologies that power cryptocurrency will make it harder for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides to fog up prosecutions with misinformation on social media platforms, as they’ve tried to do with the images of Ukraine’s Bucha massacre that recently surfaced.
For many Americans, the blockchain is incomprehensible; for others it is simply a way to power an NFT bubble or a widespread cryptoscam. But war-crimes prosecution may provide an unequivocally positive use.
Together, Dotan, Smith, Brookie and Jaeger have spent the past five weeks building a team of engineers and legal experts in Ukraine and the United States in an effort to make the images and video uploaded to Telegram, TikTok and other platforms more airtight against war-criminal defenses.
“Social media images as they currently exist are just not going to slow down or prevent or ultimately indict war criminals. They’re just too suspect to manipulation,” Smith said. “If we’re going to do justice