Digital Civil Society Lab

OpenArchive for Civil Society


We are amidst an information paradigm shift; where people now create and distribute more media than any centralized corporate or government entity can. Social media platforms are the primary destination for citizen media, but with increasing censorship and filtering of content, they are not suitable for many communities to share and store their living histories on. If not blocked, governments and social media platforms often remove media at their discretion; taking down crucial records, in some cases, needed for future war crimes tribunals. Two examples are when YouTube inadvertently took down a number of videos documenting atrocities atrocities in Syria and later when YouTube and Facebook took down documentation of the ethnic cleansing and torture of the Rohingya.

While citizen media made on mobile phones is becoming increasingly valuable and useful to defend human rights, it is also more fragile and ephemeral as the aforementioned new threats to digital media arise. There is a pressing need to offer secure, long-term storage of archival-quality, verified versions of photos, video, and audio captured by people on their phones, especially when it can impact their freedom and well-being. We when started building tools, there was no way for these people to securely preserve their mobile media for legacy access in the future, often needed for evidentiary or advocacy purposes.


People armed with mobile devices are becoming history’s first responders, amassing rich, contextualized, and crucial records of today’s breaking news. However, most of these recordings presently reside on social media platforms that can chill free speech and are subject to government censorship, privacy breaches, and data loss. While social media is an acceptable distribution platform, it does not provide sufficient privacy protections or archival preservation of this vital media.

In order to offer vulnerable populations a secure way to preserve their historical documentation and address current and future threats to their media, Natalie Cadranel created OpenArchive, a free, open-source mobile application that routes mobile media to user-created collections in an accessible public trust, outside the corporate walled gardens dominating the online media ecosystem that threaten free speech. As an open source app, it can be white-labeled to route mobile media to partner organizations who receive more sensitive media.

The goal of the app is to enable people to easily archive photos, video, and audio from their mobile device to secure, trustworthy, and remote storage service. It does so by sending media to the Internet Archive and other destinations using Orbot/Tor. Uniting and extending the work of the Guardian Project, Creative Commons, and the Internet Archive, it is available on Google Play and GitHub. The lightweight mobile app (under 6mb) addresses the gaps in the current online ecosystem existing around the a) ethical short term collection and b) long term preservation of sensitive mobile media. It provides mobile-centered, scalable, industry-standard, ethical, intuitive, easy to use tools for at-risk communities to pseudonymously preserve and authenticate their media so that it will be accessible and maintain its provenance in the future.


OpenArchive creates tools through a holistic process beginning with ethnographic research, prototyping, people’s feedback, iteration, and culminating in development. Since the app was released in the Google Play store in 2016, the team’s recent research has illuminated the need for the project to expand and include a more closed framework that addresses people’s needs in high-risk regions as well as large human rights organizations that receive evidentiary media from the field.

This work on phase 2 of OpenArchive will address three key areas: 

  • Technology Integration: a distributed backend and integrated security
  • Media Verification: including the Guardian Project’s “Proofmode” as a core feature in OpenArchive
  • Network Building: engaging with communities to integrate people’s feedback addressing threat models and usability needs, while prioritizing privacy, security and preservation