How to Make a Gotcha! Video

Phone Evidence

How should a vigilante or a political activist make a video record of illegal activity?

Let’s say you catch the mayor parking her motorcycle in a no-parking zone, arrogantly thinking she won't get a ticket because she is mayor.  You pull out your smart phone and record by video.  You intend to present the video as evidence to a legal body like the city council.  Or you intend to give the video to the local TV news team.  Or, you intend to publish the video on youtube.

Here are steps to make the video more credible and worthy of attention:

1.  Narrate what you see as you record it, so that the viewer understands what is being displayed.  Narration makes video more compelling than a still photograph.

2.  Formally sign the video at the end.  Point the camera at your face and recite words like, “I Ben Wright hereby sign and affirm this video as an authentic record of what I witnessed.”  A video is more believable when an accountable witness takes full responsibility for it.  Also, the signature bolster's the video's value in case you are not available in the future to vouch for it, such as in a legal hearing.

3.  State the location, the date and the time.


4.  Promptly after creating the video upload it to an Internet service that memorializes the date of the video (including the date of any modifications).  If the date vocalized by the witness in the video matches with the date on the Internet service, then the two corroborate each other.

As a demonstration, I uploaded the video above to Microsoft’s Skydrive service.  I uploaded within minutes after I created the video.  This screenshot shows the details that Skydrive records about the video, including time of upload and identity of the user who uploaded.

Cloud Service Metadata


5.  Give the video to some friends and ask them to load it to a service like Skydrive that records date and time.

6.  Capture GPS information.  A geotag on the video corroborates the location stated by the witness in the video.

Note:  Two witnesses are better than one.

The suggestions above might also be helpful to a case in small claims court or a self-filed divorce.



Attorney Wright teaches the law of data security and investigations at the SANS Institute.  One topic he covers in that course is whistleblower law.

The foregoing does not address all the legal issues that might arise when you make a video recording that angers another person.  It does not for instance address laws on privacy or surveillance.

Related article:  How to Exploit a Gotcha Video.