Trustless Evidence: Web 3 Is Helping Document War Crimes in Ukraine

Each day millions of smartphone cameras have given us a view into the terror of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Within minutes, ordinary citizens are uploading via social media and messaging apps grim images and videos that galvanize calls for accountability of the perpetrators of apparent war crimes.

However compelling and unequivocal they appear to be, these records are not guaranteed to be admissible in court.

The journey these digital bits take from the camera lens to presentation before a judge is complex, lengthy and often fraught with risks. The tools to manipulate digital media are easy to use and as ubiquitous as the devices used to capture them.

With the erosion of trust in digital media in our era of “fake news,” the judicial process is not immune to the existential problems facing the internet. Our rightful mistrust of digital platforms has placed digital evidence on shaky ground. Often, we no longer believe what we see. Bad actors have weaponized our skepticism. It is a pernicious end-game of a decade-long cyberwar.

The need to reset digital trust is clear. The good news is that a viable solution is also coming into focus with the arrival of mature Web 3 technologies.

Far from the hype and controversies that pervade the crypto world, we look at the maturation of tools like blockchains and distributed ledgers as an opportunity to establish a new technical, normative and legal understanding of digital integrity.

Documentation of war crimes in Ukraine makes plain how these kind of Web 3 technologies can help establish an unalterable chain of custody by preserving provenance and privacy.

Using these open-source tools and best practices, our team at the Starling Lab has developed a framework to securely capture, store and verify digital content to meet the technical and ethical challenges of establishing trust in digital records coming out of Ukraine.