2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight: Caught in the Act - Mobile Tech & Human Rights

Written by Megan Simpson | February 20, 2014

Christoph Koettl talks mobile tech and human rights at SXSW 2014

Christoph Koettl grew up in a 4,000 person village in rural Austria and speaks with a self-described funny German accent. But perhaps more noteworthy is that he’s been working in technology and human rights for years, currently serving as the Emergency Response Manager at Amnesty International. This year, he’ll present insights into his field with the 2014 SXSW Interactive Panel, “Caught in the Act: Mobile Tech & Human Rights”. Connect with him prior to the festival on Twitter @ckoettl.

SXSW: Tell us more about how mobile devices are being used in the fight for human rights.
Koettl: As mobile phones spread across the globe, human rights activists are increasingly turning to mobile technology for help in documenting, visualizing, and prosecuting human rights abuses. Unfortunately, human rights violators often harness similar technologies to silence activists. Come for a discussion of the current state of this struggle from both human rights practitioner and technologist perspectives, and learn what mobile technologies are needed to help tip the balance.

*SXSW: Have you spoken on this topic before? If so, where and when and what kind of reaction did the session receive?
Koettl: I have conducted several hands-on trainings and talks related to this topic in London and the United States. The audience was human rights researchers, campaigners and college students. Additionally, I have participated in several online discussions related to this topic, such as Google Hangouts or HuffPost Live.

SXSW: What kinds of people will want to attend this session?
Koettl: Citizen journalists, activists and software developers will benefit from this session.

SXSW: Why should SXSW attendees care about how mobile technology impacts the fight for human rights?
Koettl: This is a topic that everyone who follows the news is confronted with on a regular basis. No matter if footage from the armed conflict in Syria or the Occupy Wall Street protests, footage captured on mobile devices are increasingly becoming leading news stories. While this is a positive development, we have to be very cautious, as this technology can be easily used by repressive governments to harm activists and journalists.

SXSW: What will participants know at the end of the session that they didn’t before?
Koettl: The current state of mobile technologies and apps to document human rights violations, and the dangers and pitfalls associated with it. This will include updates and insights on some of the most promising mobile apps for documentation, and first hand accounts of how human rights practitioners assess current opportunities and dangers of digital technologies.

SXSW: What’s the best article or web post you’ve read in relation to this topic?
Koettl: The App That Builds Trust Into Citizen Media is good and so is the Verification Handbook: A definitive guide to verifying digital content for emergency coverage.

SXSW: Why do you want to speak at SXSW?
Koettl: It is one of the most forward thinking conferences on technology, media and activism (in a broad sense) in the world. I wanted to participate for several years now, and am beyond thrilled to be speaking this year.

SXSW: Aside from your own, which sessions at SXSW Interactive 2014 are you most excited about and why?
Koettl: Crowdsourcing Diplomacy. It will be interesting to learn more about how the US government is using social media in humanitarian emergency response.

SXSW: In your spare time, what do you do to relax?
Koettl: I run and explore new bars (not at the same time of course).

SXSW: What is your favorite gadget and why?
Koettl: My GoPro. I am still learning to use it, but it is a lot of fun so far.

Watch this website for more installments of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight. Click here for the complete list of programming for March in Austin. For tips on interesting sessions to attend, visit the new Recommendation page. Register now to attend “Caught in the Act - Mobile Tech & Human Rights” and other incredible programming at SXSW Interactive 2014.