Mitigating physical risk posed by technology: To responders in volatile situations – March 2022 – World

The Issue of Importance

What is it?

In humanitarian emergencies, information communication technologies (ICTs), such as mobile phones and web-based platforms, offer powerful tools for communicating with communities, performing remote needs assessments, conducting advocacy efforts, and general data collection. One interviewee expressed that in today’s information landscape, it is almost impossible to perform humanitarian assistance operations effectively without ICTs. A growing body of literature attests to the many benefits that ICTs can offer to help humanitarian relief efforts in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and accountability.2 These benefits are especially pronounced in volatile and hard-to-reach areas, because ICTs can provide communications channels for humanitarians and affected populations to send and receive life-saving information.

The interviewees identified other benefits including:

  • ICTs help humanitarian organizations coordinate with other partners during relief efforts.

  • ICTs allow humanitarian organizations to collect timely information and data from the field and effectively communicate it to responders on the ground. The Who Does What Where (3W) information management tool was notably mentioned for the way it assists with coordination efforts.3

  • ICTs can enhance the safety and security of humanitarian responders through web forms or cell phones that increase remote connection.

  • ICTs allow responders to communicate remotely with communities that they cannot access (i.e. during the Ebola outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic).

  • ICTs enable reciprocal humanitarian access: humanitarian workers can access the affected population, and vice versa.

For years following the September 11 attacks, researchers, activists and policymakers alike raised concerns that the mass collection, storage and analysis of sensitive biometric data pose significant risks to privacy rights4 and human rights.5 The potential consequences of poorly implementing technology-based projects can lead to unintended consequences that can be detrimental and even lethal for humanitarian responders and affected populations.6 Recognizing the potential challenges and risks associated with ICTs can help humanitarians avoid the pitfalls of sensitive data collection and unintended harm.

ICTs are known to introduce complications in a number of ways. For instance, digital tools alter the interaction between aid staff and recipients, which can add to and exacerbate crises or conflict dynamics.7 The digitization of communications introduces new security and privacy risks, as data transmitted on electronic devices or networks become susceptible to third-party interception and breaches, sometimes unwittingly.8 However, such challenges entangled with using ICTs for humanitarian purposes have not been adequately researched or addressed in literature and practice.9 Some believe this is because safety and security are not part of the agenda when utilizing digital technologies. Others say that the humanitarian community has not fully grasped the whole issue of data safety in order to mitigate some of the risks.

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