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Issue

Development and Humanitarian Aid

New technologies have revolutionised the impact and effectiveness of development and humanitarian interventions, and their adoption is a key priority for modern development actors. However, their adoption raises new challenges for the protection and promotion of human rights, in particular the rights to privacy and the protection of personal data.

The data collected or processed by humanitarian organisations can be extremely sensitive. In some contexts, even basic information about beneficiaries on location, ethnicity, religion, or gender falling into the wrong hands could place lives at risk. So while both the public and private sectors are increasingly building privacy protections and safeguards into their policies, humanitarian and development organisations are lagging behind.

Since much aid is distributed in situations where there are weak legal and institutional protections for individuals’ privacy, humanitarian organisations need to consider whether they might be facilitating a legacy system for state surveillance. And when working with private sector partners, they must think carefully about the implications of corporate access to personal data and the potential for its abuse. 

The very existence of and possible access to the data collected by humanitarian organisations can encourage its use for other purposes than those for which it was collected. Political, religious or ethnic groups can be tracked using mobile phone data; when paired with other data, anonymised data can be deanonymised and used to locate individuals. Further, given the difficulties of collecting accurate data in humanitarian situations, the data could contain errors that are difficult for beneficiaries to correct, but that flawed data could later form the basis for important policy decisions.

The humanitarian principle of “do no harm” entails protecting beneficiaries from such risks by incorporating privacy considerations into the design and implementation of humanitarian and development aid programmes. Safeguards around privacy should be implemented and respected, particularly when working with vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, disaster survivors or those living in conflict-stricken areas. These should include only collecting necessary data and putting in place effective data security measures.

Privacy International is leading the discourse on promoting privacy and data protection in the development and humanitarian fields. We are working with humanitarian and development organisations and practitioners to provide assistance to the development of their own internal policies on privacy, as well as promoting the development of international standards around data protection by contributing to the discussions about the UN's post-2015 development agenda and the preparation of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.

Development and Humanitarian Aid

Report
14-Dec-2013

New technologies may hold great benefits for the developing world, but without strong legal frameworks ensuring that rights are adequately protected, they pose serious threats to populations they are supposed to empower.

This is never more evident than with the rapid and widespread implementation of biometric technology. Whilst concerns and challenges are seen in both developed and developing countries when it comes to biometrics, for the latter they are more acute due the absence of laws or flawed legal frameworks, which are failing to uphold and ensure the protection of basic human rights.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Guardian
Publication date: 
18-Feb-2014
Original story link: 

Big data helps us to understand the true impact of business on the environment and could change our behaviour. But at what cost? Anna Crowe of Privacy International told the Guardian podcast, "There is a more general issue around data being equated with truth, that data is ging to tell us the truth about a situation when it can be deeply flawed."

In the media
Publisher: 
BBC World Service
Publication date: 
28-Feb-2014
Original story link: 

Gus Hosein and Anna Crowe speak with BBC World Service on the past, and future, of privacy.

Countries: 
Blog
Dr Gus Hosein's picture

In Geneva this week, an expert seminar will be held at the Human Rights Council on the right to privacy. To inform these discussions and debates, Privacy International is releasing our report, The State of Privacy 2014, which identifies recent accomplishments from around the world, and highlights significant challenges ahead for this right.

To read the full report, go here.

Promoting and defending the right to privacy in national and international policy discourses is always an interesting challenge. The right to privacy is fundamental to who we are as human beings, insulating our most intimate and personal thoughts and deeds, and acts as a critical safeguard against abuse and overreach by pow- erful institutions. It is perhaps for these reasons that the right has for so long been under attack by governments.

Blog
Alexandrine Pirlot's picture

Big data consists mainly of data that is openly available, created and stored. It includes public sector data such as national health statistics, procurement and budgetary information, and transport and infrastructure data. While big data may carry benefits for development initiatives, it also carries serious risks, which are often ignored. In pursuit of the promised social benefits that big data may bring, it is critical that fundamental human rights and ethical values are not cast aside.

Expanding beyond publicly accessible data

Along with other humanitarian organisations and UN agencies, one key advocate and user of big data is the UN Global Pulse, launched in 2009 in recognition of the need for more timely information to track and monitor the impacts of global and local socio-economic crises. This innovative initiative explores how digital data sources and real-time analytics technologies can help policymakers understand human well-being and emerging vulnerabilities in real-time, in order to better protect populations from shocks.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

The following piece originally appeared on Linda Raftree's "Wait...What" blog, a site focusing on bridging community development and technology.

New technologies hold great potential for the developing world, and countless development scholars and practitioners have sung the praises of technology in accelerating development, reducing poverty, spurring innovation and improving accountability and transparency.

Worryingly, however, privacy is presented as a luxury that creates barriers to development, rather than a key aspect to sustainable development. This perspective needs to change.

Blog
Alexandrine Pirlot's picture

New technologies may hold great benefits for the developing world, but without strong legal frameworks ensuring that rights are adequately protected, they pose serious threats to populations they are supposed to empower.

This is never more evident than with the rapid and widespread implementation of biometric technology. Whilst concerns and challenges are seen in both developed and developing countries when it comes to biometrics, for the latter they are more acute due the absence of laws or flawed legal frameworks, which are failing to uphold and ensure the protection of basic human rights.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

News that the United Nations is using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) to collect information in the troubled east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) illustrates the growing use – and acceptance - of surveillance technologies in humanitarian operations.

The deployment of two drones by the UN Stabilisation Mission (MONUSCO) in the DRC last week, to assist the Mission in fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians, had been long foreshadowed, with requests for their use in the eastern DRC dating back to 2008; the UN Security Council effectively authorised MONUSCO to use drones in January 2013 following a 2012 letter from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commenting on the ability of drones “to enhance situational awareness and permit timely decision-making” in the eastern DRC.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

Through the Aiding Privacy project, Privacy International is promoting the development of international standards around data protection in the humanitarian and development fields and working with relevant organisations to make this happen.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

The drive for accountability in aid spending has put humanitarian and development agencies under pressure to collect an ever-growing amount of data about those who receive their assistance. Donors also increasingly demand that new technologies are deployed to ensure aid reaches those it is targeted at; preventing people from fraudulently using refugees’ identities, for example, was a key motivation behind UNHCR’s recent introduction of biometric technology to register Syrian refugees in Jordan.

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