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About this study

Although we have extensive experience in privacy and security of information systems, as both academics and practitioners, our work in developing countries and humanitarian operations is relatively recent.

In 2008 we began work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to review their registration systems and to analyse data collection risks. Alongside our partnering organisation, Privacy International, we also began to work with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to conduct research on privacy challenges in developing countries. We quickly realised that our work in these domains would be drastically different to anything we had previously encountered. Our traditional recommendations would be meaningless. Calling for policy change, for instance, is insufficient in environments with minimalist legal frameworks, or where the rules are easily suspended as in the case of emergency humanitarian and relief efforts. Similarly, the rate of deployment of technologies in these environments was unlike anything we had ever encountered. Yet we also saw how the status of ‘vulnerable’ can be assigned to an entire population and even an entire region. We encountered real risks that we had considered previously only in the abstract.

In 2009 we began discussions with international organisations regarding privacy and security frameworks. In particular, in June 2009 IDRC invited us to engage with their partners on health projects in Asia. The conversations that followed were enlightening as we were able to learn about innovative techniques and practices being deployed in developing countries that had not yet even been deployed elsewhere. Based on our earlier experiences in developing countries and humanitarian operations, we grew concerned about informational privacy and security. We approached IDRC to ask if we could assist the organisation and its partners in considering the matter further.