There is some information we need to make a decision. This is true about an application to university, how to response to a fire, and whether or not to turn onto a road. Depending on the type of decision we are making, we need different types of information.
Seems pretty basic. Sometimes the information we gather is essential (can’t make the decision without it) and sometimes the information is ‘nice to have’ but not essential.
On many forms today, there will be some sort of statement or box that needs ticking saying that we consent to giving the information. This seems a bit odd as there is no real choice, if we want to be considered we need to consent, if we don’t consent, we aren’t considered. It’s also weird to think about consent when it is rarely clear why they need the information they are asking for; this is in fact almost never clear.
It is obvious that information is needed; that is not the question. But perhaps we need to improve talking about why we need the different pieces of information. So mention that we want to be able to re-identify you when you interact with us again, that we want to be able to notify you about the progress of your ‘application’, that we need to check that you are not a terrorist according to our laws, that you are not a ‘duplicate’, that are a ‘person’, and so on.
In determining whether or not someone is eligible for aid or is a refugee, it is the same. There is certain information humanitarian agencies need to make decisions, for instance, what is the size of your household helps us allocate appropriate amounts of blankets and food.
And yet, I’m not sure we should be calling it consent when there is no choice involved; let’s call that a requirement for involvement. And when it comes to dealing with vulnerable people, let’s try to make the requirements for involvement as low as possible.
So collecting information is appropriate; we need to improve making people aware about why we are collecting it and what we are doing with it. When we don’t know what is happening with the information that is being collected, it can be disempowering.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema