The 'cynical space' where aid, tech, and militaries intersect | Devex

Gunnar Larson g at
Thu Feb 15 09:47:41 PST 2024


A new report maps the landscape of humanitarian aid data — and finds reason
to worry. Data protection, cybersecurity, and information for sale are just
a handful of the reasons to ask if the aid sector is doing enough to
protect information about the people it serves.

Also in today’s edition: A breakdown of aid donors’ sectoral spending, a
look at the Munich Security Conference, and some thoughts on “epistemic
humility” from billionaire and effective altruist Dustin Moskovitz.

Responsibility to protect
It’s Thursday, Feb. 15. Do you know where your data is?

Humanitarian aid groups collect a lot of data: biometrics, phone numbers,
identification cards, ethnic and religious identity, financial information,
geolocation, dietary habits, family size, history of gender-based violence,
birth and death certificates, medical data.

Sometimes it’s even a condition for providing assistance, and in many cases
the humanitarian sector says it is essential for getting the right support
to the right people.

But as data collection has proliferated, so have questions about privacy,
security, and proper use of people’s personal information, my colleague
Sara Jerving reports.

Sara has the first look at a new report — released today — from Giulio
Coppi at Access Now which maps the relationships between private technology
companies and international humanitarian organizations. The map that Coppi
has drawn is not a particularly comforting one.

He finds “an opaque world, increasingly consolidated in few hands, dealing
in the data of the world’s most vulnerable and providing fertile ground to
greedy data brokers and intermediaries.”

It’s a world that’s vulnerable to cyberattacks, exposed to a global economy
in which the “rare datasets” gathered by aid groups can be valuable
financial commodities, and populated by numerous players, each collecting
different types of data through overlapping platforms under shifting rules
and ethical norms.

“There cannot be meaningful consent when your life depends on giving away
your data,” Coppi says.
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