There is a moment in all great stories, where the character playing the role of the mentor/teacher/guide to the hero or heroine reaching the limits of their knowledge. Sometimes these scenes are calm, peaceful, serene and Yoda-like in tone. Other times the scenes are more teenager-like, angry, and aggressive in nature.
Guides have limits. They are not meant to restrict us, but rather help us flourish. They help us focus in on certain things, but it is up to us to put it all together.
Similarly, ethical data and technology use is not the same as privacy or protection. And for the avoidance of doubt, it’s not the same as data security either. They can be guides helping us see certain parts of the puzzle, but they are not the whole of it.
Data ethics and responsible technology use moves us beyond the questions of ‘can we do this safely?’ and into the world of ‘should we?’ Security, protection, and privacy can help us get there, but they can’t take us the whole way. And different places in the journey, they turn to us saying, ‘I’ve taken you as far as I can, you must go on your own from here.’
Data ethics and responsible technology use is about values. What do we hold dear about who we are and who others are. Therefore, it is rarely crystal clear. Strands of it might be clear, but when the strands are woven together it is usually foggy.
This is one of the reasons intentionality is so important in data and technology use. Right and wrong and potential benefits and harms are not clear – both now (short term) and in the future (long term). It is the murkiness which makes it an obligation to consider our values, assumptions, experiences. This is why all humanitarian organisations should have ethics committees or boards overseeing their use of data and technology.
And no this is not IT and it is not backstabbing or criticising IT either. Rather, it is about organisations maturing and taking their duty of care seriously.