Pharos - Central Idea

From Identifying Difficult Problems in Cyberlaw
Jump to navigation Jump to search

First and foremost, Pharos is a mission-driven organization: “To enable, protect, and promote human rights media.” To serve this mission, Pharos has two objectives. First, it enables technical solutions for receiving and publishing human rights media while protecting anonymity. Second, as an independent organization Pharos serves as a leader in promoting awareness of and discussions about the state of human rights media.

To enable, . . .

Pharos end-to-end diagram

Pharos enables human rights media by facilitating technical solutions for receiving and publishing such media. The Figure “Pharos end-to-end diagram” illustrates how Pharos is situated to accomplish this goal. The left-hand side of the picture shows how Pharos is positioned to receive human rights media, and the right-hand side shows how Pharos is positioned to publish that media.

Pharos is connected to the sources of human rights media - cameras, mobile phones, computers, video recorders, etc. - via the Internet.[1] The options for transmitting media to Pharos are numerous, and are represented in the picture by the blue cloud. Pharos leverages existing technologies to facilitate various paths through the cloud, such as public key encryption,[2] sneakernets,[3] Tor implementations,[4] direct web uploads, email, or any other method that allows individuals to send human rights media to Pharos anonymously. Furthermore, these technologies can be used together. For example, one could imagine a scenario in which a person captures a human rights violation through the video camera on his mobile phone, transfers that video to a computer at an Internet café, then encrypts the video using Pharos’s public encryption key, and finally uses a Pharos-specific Tor network to send the encrypted video to Pharos. Alternatively, if anonymity is less of a concern, the person could simply record the video on his mobile phone and upload it directly to Pharos’s website. In either case, part of Pharos’s mission is to ensure that that such paths through the cloud exist.

In addition to receiving human rights media, Pharos facilitates its publishing, which is depicted on the right-hand side of the “Pharos end-to-end diagram.”[5] Pharos can publish human rights media in two ways. First, Pharos has the ability to publish the media itself, and second, it can also work closely with existing organizations like YouTube and The New York Times to help with distribution. A real-life scenario could work as follows. A person records a small, peaceful demonstration on her mobile phone. Because YouTube is blocked in her country and the New York Times doesn’t deem the small demonstration to be newsworthy, she sends the video to Pharos, which publishes it. Later, the government cracks down on the demonstrators, claiming that they are violent. But because Pharos has received and published this video, a record of the peaceful demonstration is preserved and later picked up by major news organizations, eventually including the New York Times.

No other organization enables human rights media in this way or this effectively. Using the framework developed in the Existing Services Section, hierarchical organizations that are profit-seeking, such as CNN and The New York Times, may choose not to publish certain pieces of media because they are not newsworthy. Non-hierarchical organizations that publish user-generated content, like YouTube and Facebook, may not filter media by newsworthiness, but as profit-seeking organizations they are susceptible to governmental pressures to take down objectionable content and identify offending individuals. For these reasons, Pharos must have the capability to publish human rights media on its own. On the other hand, non-profit organizations like and Amnesty International do not have the resources or the expertise to enable technical solutions for exfiltrating human rights media. For this reason, Pharos must proactively enable such technical solutions for receiving human rights media. By building the two steps required to distribute human rights media to the world - receiving and publishing - into its mission, Pharos accomplishes what no existing organization can.

protect, . . .

A critical piece of Pharos’s mission is to protect the sources of the human rights media that it receives. Anonymity is a necessary component of any solution that encourages individuals to expose human rights violations, as the threat of reprisal is an effective mechanism for chilling the creation of such media.

Pharos protects its sources in two ways. First, Pharos scrubs any technical metadata that might identify the source that submitted a particular piece of media. For example, Pharos eliminates any record of the origin of the submission (e.g. IP address) and any record of the actual device (e.g. mobile phone number or computer MAC address) that was used to create the media. In this way, digital forensic techniques will not lead back to the source of a particular piece of content. Second, Pharos can actually blur the identities of participants in the media that it receives. For example, participants in a human rights protest might face reprisals if their identities become know to repressive governments. Pharos can deploy a combination of automated technical solutions and manual review to ensure that sensitive videos can be published without risking the safety of the participants in those videos.[6]

The protection of anonymity is not unique to Pharos. Traditional news organizations, like newspapers, vigorously protect the identity of their sources. However, extending such protection to user-generated content is unique to Pharos. Organizations like Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo! have turned over the identities of its users to oppressive governments under certain circumstances, and will continue to do so. This dramatically reduces their effectiveness for distributing human rights media. In contrast, Pharos will guarantee the anonymity of its sources, as do traditional news organizations. While Pharos cannot be “jurisdictionless”,[7] it must exist in an environment where it can legally protect its sources. For more information, see Pharos - Organization and Governance.

and promote . . .

human rights media.


  1. It should be noted, however, that Pharos is not restricted to receiving media over the Internet. For example, Pharos could publish a mailing address. For our purposes, however, we assume that the Internet is the easiest and most likely conduit through which Pharos will receive human rights media.
  2. See, e.g.,
  3. See, e.g.,
  4. See
  5. Before publishing any piece of media, Pharos protects the identity of its sources by anonymizing any files it receives. This process is described in greater detail in the next Section.
  6. The question of which videos should be subject to such blurring is left for further discussion. For example, a person who submits a video could explicitly request that the video be completely “anonymized.” In other cases, this might not be necessary.
  7. See