How Drones Help Transparency Activists To See Things The Hungarian Government Wants To Hide
from the not-just-about-dealing-out-death dept
It’s remarkable how quickly drones have become a familiar part of the modern world. Like most tools, they can be used for good and evil, but it tends to be the latter that is highlighted when it comes to drones. In the last few days, it was widely reported that President Trump has given the CIA power to launch drone strikes against suspected terrorists, in addition to being able to use the technology to locate them. Dealing death from the skies may be the most dramatic application of drones, but there are plenty of other, more benign, uses, even if they receive less attention. For example, activists in Hungary have been deploying them in a variety of innovative ways in order to bolster transparency and openness in a country where these are increasingly under threat. That’s because the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is a self-confessed believer in the “illiberal state,” which Wikipedia describes as follows:
a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties. It is not an “open society”.
The Hungarian organization Atlatszo.hu wants to reconnect citizens with that knowledge about those in power:
Established in 2011, atlatszo.hu — “atlatszo” means transparent in Hungarian ? produces investigative reports, accepts information from whistleblowers, files freedom of information requests, and commences freedom of information lawsuits in cases where its requests are refused.
Atlatszo.hu operates a Tor-based anonymous whistleblowing platform (Magyarleaks), a freedom of information request generator for the general public (Kimittud), a crowdsourced bribe tracker to report everyday corruption anonymously (Fizettem), and an independent blogging platform for other NGOs and independent media.
Atlatszo.hu uses a wide range of modern technologies in its work, and that also includes drones. Here’s a post on Open Society Foundations from a few months back explaining why eyes in the sky are a powerful tool for taking a look at things governments would rather keep to themselves:
Through drone footage, we’ve revealed the hidden assets of government politicians and pro-government oligarchs, including castles acquired by companies tied to the son-in-law of Hungary’s prime minister. Such concrete signs of personal enrichment — which, in many cases, can only be filmed from the air — give citizens a clear picture of the corruption and inequality that is all around them.
At the same time, drones are useful for throwing into relief the power of civil society. In 2014, we captured aerial footage of the protests against the government’s internet tax.
Recording protests from the air is important because it allows more accurate estimates of crowd sizes to be made, which are also harder to challenge given the detailed footage that goes well beyond what is possible to gather on the ground. There’s a video showing this and other aspects of Atlatszo.hu’s work, mostly in Hungarian, but with English subtitles, that gives a good idea of the huge potential for using drones in this domain — and of the pushback activists are already receiving from the deeply unhappy authorities as a result. As drones become ever-cheaper and ever-more powerful, that tension seems likely to increase.