The Humanitarian Metadata Problem: “Doing no harm” in the Digital Era

Published: April 12, 2019 | By Privacy International/ICRC | Library item

New technologies continue to present great risks and opportunities for humanitarian action. To ensure that their use does not result in any harm, humanitarian organisations must develop and implement appropriate data protection standards, including robust risk assessments. However, this requires a good understanding of what these technologies are, what risks are associated with their use, and how we can try to avoid or mitigate them. The following study tries to answer these questions in an accessible manner. The aim is to provide people who work in the humanitarian sphere with the knowledge they need to understand the risks involved in the use of certain new technologies. This paper also discusses the “do no harm” principle and how it applies in a digital environment.

This study was commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Privacy International (PI). The study does not advocate for privacy or against surveillance. Rather, it maps out where surveillance may obstruct or threaten the neutral, impartial and independent nature of humanitarian action.

This study is based on the most updated information publicly available and/or obtained by the authors at the time of writing (July 2018).