Why have we published Guidelines for OSINT?

As mentioned by Colette Cuijpers: “the fact that data are openly available does not mean that they can be processed without regard to legal and ethical standards. Put in other words, the mere fact that data are publicly available does not imply an absence of restrictions to researching them”

With a constantly developing OSINT community and the lack of common standards among them, it has become increasingly clear to the authors of this document that it is time to create a framework comprising conceptions, methodologies, and good practices of how best to carry out their public-facing OSINT work.

With the support of an EU project aiming to establish a European Fact-Checking Standard Network (EFCSN), this group of public-interest-oriented OSINT practitioners established a working group to research and develop this set of Guidelines.

It is indeed impossible for a small group of practitioners to direct that all OSINT work, whether public or private, should adhere to these Guidelines. However, we do think the ethical framework and resources we have put together can assist to improve all types of  OSINT methodologies, as we designed them to design an ethical framework for such activities.

These Guidelines have been produced by organisations conducting open source intelligence (OSINT)-based research for public interest in Europe. The organisations having participated in the redaction of those Guidelines are EU DisinfoLab, CheckFirst, Centre for Information Resilience, DFR Lab, Open Facto, OSINTCurious, and Logically.

We acknowledge that we do not represent the entire OSINT community nor the entire industry, but we hope to contribute to the growing literature in this field based on our organisations’ vast collective experience. These Guidelines apply to those engaged in public-facing OSINT work, which means investigative outcomes being displayed to a wide audience.

The objective of these Guidelines is not to propose a unilateral approach on how to conduct OSINT research and investigations, but rather to support organisations working in the public interest and outlining a common ethical framework for them to adopt or adapt based on their requirements.

These Guidelines are complementary to the local laws and regulations applicable to organisations.

We hope these Guidelines will launch a continuous and lively discussion on best practices and ethics in the OSINT community. We look forward to seeing the diverse community of stakeholders doing OSINT work to use these Guidelines and propose additional approaches on how we could all be doing better.

[1] Legal aspects of open source intelligence – Results of the VIRTUOSO project https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0267364913001647

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