Remember the scandal when people’s private data was leaked? No, not that one, the other one. No the other one. No no no, the other one. Unfortunately this is more common and will continue to be. Take a moment to think how powerful you felt when you heard about the latest scandal involving a service you used. My guess is, that you, like me, felt very powerless or felt that you had no idea what you could actually do.
Now imagine if you were a refugee fleeing for your life with your family and found yourself in a foreign country terrified. Or imagine yourself waking in the middle of the night to your house fallen down due to an earthquake or imagine yourself fleeing war. It’s likely you have a whole mixture of emotions going on from terror to confusion to fear to anger to grief.
And then you meet people who are working for organisations trying to help providing aid, who provide you with food, shelter, healthcare, and many other things you need. They ask for your name and information about your family so they can help you better; a little voice in your head wonders why they need so much information about you and what they will do with the information, but you give it as you need the things they are offering and you fear that if you don’t give the information, you won’t get the help. You feel powerless and scared.
Most aid organisations I know collect information but forget about the powerless most recipients feel in making choices about what information to share or not. Most organisations I know are working on improving this and to improve how they protect the data of the vulnerable people they work with. There is great insights that can be found in analysing project data and recipient data which can be used to improve the services aid organisations provide. And yet, we should never forget who’s data it is and at bare minimum have a principle of ensuring that whatever we do, we do not make vulnerable people more vulnerable. And this should impact the choices we make about who to partner with (private sector or NGO). Partnering with a CIA-linked company, best known for its work in intelligence and immigration enforcement, to help mine an Aid agency’s data and provide insights is unlikely to be a wise choice or pass the Do No Harm principle test. There are other options out there, there are always other options.
People who have been affected by disasters, war, famine, deserve better than this.