real time, they do not cover all regions equally, and clouds, vegetation, and nighttime can obscure the ground. In some places, satellite imagery can see structures and estimate populations, but it is less useful in urban areas. It is useful for tracing bombardments but not for documenting ground fighting.
That said, King described several instances in which journalists and policymakers were able to confront rulers with satellite images of atrocities, which can be very powerful. For example, when huts were burnt to the ground in Darfur, they were clearly visible on satellite photographs. But satellites have a limited capacity to provide early warnings, and the perpetrators of violence are learning how to hide their activities from satellite surveillance.
Melanie Greenberg mentioned the possibility of gathering other types of advance indicators of conflict. For example, if teenage boys in several villages start selling their bicycles to get money to buy guns, peacebuilders could use that information to take action. “What are the unusual patterns we might be able to see from this great conglomeration of data?”
Noel Dickover, new media advisor at the US Department of State’s Office of eDiplomacy, mentioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative, which has brought together leaders of local civil society with technologists, creating a bottom-up approach to sensing that can complement a top-down approach. “If you can find people who are already in a country doing great stuff on the ground, you can expose them in a very interactive way to some of these enabling technologies.” Small groups of six or seven people engage in a series of activities to see what is possible and come up with ideas about how to apply technologies. Funders then can help convert these ideas into solutions. “We can start acting like angel investors, where instead of deciding, funding, and implementing the project ourselves, we’re trying to engage really innovative teams.” Dickover’s group has applied this approach around the world and is putting the results online so that others can learn from them.
Christina Goodness, chief of the UN Peacekeeping Information Management Unit, cited a number of factors to consider in data gathering. One unresolved issue is the legal ownership of the information gathered, especially when multiple political actors and corporations are involved. With cloud storage, if data are collected in Syria, stored in Italy, and accessed from New York, which country’s governance applies and what are the legal standards for using the data? Corporations are beginning to take a greater role in offering services previously offered by governments or civil actors, gaining greater control over the data they provide.