In Yemen, communities the aid sector worked with refused to provide biometric data to WFP. So WFP stopped providing food to starving people.
In Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution and death in Myanmar were promised their data, including their biometric data, would only be used by UNHCR for aid purposes and would never be shared. The data collected includes information about the communities the people originate from and there relatives (still living in Myanmar). Then, months later, UNHCR shared the data of these same refugees with both the Bangladeshi and Myanmar governments.
And now Afghanistan. As the expats illustrate their extreme privilege and flee the country, the local communities are left on their own. However, not before the aid community has gathered millions of data records of Afghanis with whom we’ve worked and who have worked with us. And once again, the data records include biometrics. And yes, as countless news outlets have reported on, these data is also in the hands of the Taliban.
But data is objective, isn’t it? Data is people. Our collection of data is political. And yes, I hear you say those ‘other’ actors are using the data for politically motivated reasons. And while this is true, so do we. Our politics might be different, but it is no less political.
None of these scenarios are a surprise. If we invested in proper data governance discussions with a diverse group of perspectives, we could have had better plans in place. But proper data governance requires political will.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. So when we will learn?
The choice is up to us.