On Thursday, 18 May, Prof. dr. Andrej Zwitter gave a presentation on “Humanitarian Intelligence and Data Protection” at the European Parliament for a Workshop on “Data driven Life” for the European Data Protection Supervisor and the Ethics Advisory Group. The event was life streamed. A video recording of the session is available with Zwitter’s contribution starting at 2:13:32. Below a short summary of the key findings:  
Modern technology and innovations constantly transform the world. This also applies to humanitarian action, for example: humanitarian drones, crowd sourcing of information, the utility of Big Data etc. The acceleration of modernization of humanitarianism can in part be attributed to new partnerships between humanitarian actors and new private stakeholders that increasingly become active in the humanitarian field, such as individual crisis mappers, mobile telecommunication companies, or technological SMEs. This partnership, however, must be described as simultaneously beneficial as well as problematic. Many private actors do not subscribe to the humanitarian principles (humanity, impartiality, independence, and neutrality) or are not even aware of them. Their interests are not solely humanitarian, but may include entrepreneurial agendas. The importance of disaster response in the perspective of big data and technology can be realized by the fact that the 2013 World Disasters Report (Vinck 2013) dedicated itself to the topic of humanitarian information and communication technologies (HCIT).
The vulnerability of victims of disasters and the important role that Humanitarian Principles have regarding the protection of aid workers and the creation of humanitarian space requires an ethical examination regarding the implications that Big Data has on them. The following core Humanitarian Principles and the effect of Big Data on them are:
Humanity means that the humanitarian imperative comes first – aid has to be give in accordance to need. Currently, the trend is to collect and retain data in the hope future data analytics will help us understand conflicts and disasters better. The specific vulnerabilities of people in need might require, however, a very restrictive data policy for their own protection that in many instances should comply with medical standards of restricted data use and deletion. For humanitarian Big Data this could mean that the collection of data might strictly governed by a “need to know” principle. Furthermore, given the danger that leaked or stolen data might bring, similarly to the practice of law enforcement and intelligence organisations, humanitarian organisations might need to adopt a data retention and deletion policy for data no longer needed to remedy the acute crisis.
Neutrality means that humanitarian actors must not take sides in the conflict. Concerning Big Data collection and analysis this posits the problem that data needs to be collected in such a way that it represents the actual need and not for example the access to internet or the availability cell phones which might be different between parties of a conflict (see also above Veracity, Verification, and Validity). Also it means that with regards to the data sharing policy, the intelligence is either shared with all parties to the conflict or with none.
Impartiality means that aid should be delivered without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. More specifically, this means that data collection needs to be sensitive to: (a) reducing biases in specific type of data, (b) the specific data sensitivities with regards to vulnerable groups, (c) processing and analytics in order to remain truthful, and (d) being cautious not to perpetuate or increase the vulnerabilities of groups by emphasizing differences. The sensitivity of data is very context dependent (geolocation is crucial to find people in a collapsed building after an earthquake, but it can be very dangerous in armed conflict if people thereby can become a target). Therefore, the release of any data needs to be under constant review about the potential for misuse.
Independence means that “humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented”.[1] Big Data collection of CDR data, mobile phone cash transfer data is conducted by telecommunication service providers and financial institutions with commercial interest. The same agencies provide data as “charity” to humanitarian analysts in order to improve humanitarian response. However, result of the humanitarian data analytics might expose vulnerable groups as target groups for specifically tailor-made services, which the service provider might want to profit from. This would be a particularly exploitative attempt to increase sales (e.g. offering international roaming discounts for cell phone or internet usage to refugees). Such exploitative practices that profit from the vulnerabilities of people in need are incompatible with the principle of independence.
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