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Humanitarian interventions increasingly rely on the use of information technology for wide-ranging purposes. Biometric identity systems have been extensively deployed for the registration of refugees and migrants. Mobile phone technologies are being used to facilitate real-time crisis communications, cash transfers, and access to utilities. “Algorithmic humanitarianism” has even entered our lexicon. Importantly, such technological innovations—and various others—are mainly considered a positive development for humanitarianism.
However, these innovations are nearly universally based on the collection and processing of data which is often personal in nature. Despite a burgeoning academic literature on privacy and data protection, the surveillance capacities of humanitarian technology remain grossly unexamined. Likewise, key questions arise about data value chains in humanitarian innovation, with linkages to corporate and military applications, as well as data ethics. We are also only beginning to appreciate the scope and scale of emergent cybersecurity challenges in humanitarian contexts. An auxiliary concern, but no less important, is the potential need to reshape humanitarian organizations in terms of expertise and structure to better cope with technological innovation. These observations demand more rigorous analysis and debate about the role of data and technology in the humanitarian enterprise.
This panel will bring together critical scholarly and practitioner perspectives on the use of data and technology in humanitarian contexts. Proposed presenters include Linnet Taylor, Aaron Martin, and Sean McDonald.