eWitness: Seeing can still be believing
How can we protect truth in a world where creating fake media with AI techniques is child’s play? eWitness is a blockchain backed technology that creates islands of trust by establishing the origin and proving the integrity of media captured on smart-phones and cameras. With eWitness, seeing can once again be believing.
Gina is a journalist and human rights activist. She works in Gotham city. She routinely uploads footage from her phone to the cloud service she trusts. She is meticulous in recording and documenting everything she sees. Her work is featured on The Daily Planet. The Joker, who rules Gotham city after Batman’s disappearance, uses is mega phone to dismiss Gina’s work as fake. “These images and video recordings were not even taken in Gotham city”, he says. The Joker accuses Metropolis for unfairly showing Gotham and its new ruler in a bad light. Gina’s meticulous work is discredited for the lack of an alibi. Being afraid of consequences, no one dares come forward to support her claim or corroborate her story.
It was 9 pm on a Saturday. Aaron could see the red Mustang park in the driveway of his convenience store. Aaron is cautious because he knows the Mustang belongs to Jack, his former employee who he had to let go after he was caught stealing red-handed from the store. Jack puts on a mask, and Aaron activates his store camera. Jack approaches the cashier and demands all of the money in the cash register. Aaron reports the robbery and turns in all of the footage from the surveillance camera. There had been a few power shortages since the cameras were installed, causing the camera’s date and time to go out of sync. The surveillance footage showed a time of 5 pm. Jack was working at a pizza restaurant 5 miles from Aaron’s store at 5 pm. Unlike Aaron, Jack had a perfect alibi.
Mike is a professional photographer with a public Instagram account. He is walking in downtown Manhattan to an assignment. He stops to get coffee at Beans and Bowls at the corner of 7th street and 2nd avenue. As he sips his coffee, he notices a billboard showing a commercial for Freshenista soap with an array of photographs from his spring foliage collection. The ad company had scraped the pictures from Mike’s Instagram and used them for their ad campaign. Mike cannot prove the copyright infringement or ask for compensation for the many cold spring mornings he had spent at the Botanical Gardens, photographing the beauty of nature to create his prized collection.
eWitness lifts the fog to prove the truth. Using image processing techniques and network assisted location, e-Witness creates a proof of origin, authenticity, and ownership. The proof is stored in a permissioned blockchain which becomes a perpetual record. In just a few clicks, anyone can cross-check the blockchain to extract this proof. eWitness is simple and general, two features that makes it easily customizable and widely applicable.
Things could have ended better for Gina, Aaron and Mike.
Gina could have used eWitness to anchor a proof of location, time and unique hash of her work in the blockchain. eWitness would have been her authoritative and fearless alibi.
Aaron could have used eWitness backed cameras. A proof of his camera footage on the blockchain would undeniably establish the correct time and location of the incident.
Mike’s photographs could have been in the eWitness ecosystem. With eWitness, he could unlock the blockchain transaction to reveal himself as the owner of the photographs which were used in the ad campaign.
eWitness started as a summer project in 2016. After several iterations, the project evolved into a blockchain application that establishes the proof of origin of media. The project was conceptualized before AI generated false documents--also known as “deep fakes”-- became prevalent in the media landscape. eWitness continues to expand its mission as new forms of content, like viral deep fakes and photoshopped images and video, continue to pollute authentic sources of information. It is headed to become a robust solution that stands strong against an array of threats.
eWitness is a platform for journalists, investigators and activists to prove authenticity of digital photo/video evidence they capture using their smart phone cameras, so that their audience can be assured that "seeing is indeed believing".
From Universities: CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice; and NYU Tandon School of Engineering.
Team Members: Shweta Jain, Nasir Memon, Priyanka Samanta, Kumar Ramansenthil.