Aid Organizations Must Weigh Risks Of Using Biometric Data To Distribute Assistance In Conflict Settings

New York Times: Stop Surveillance Humanitarianism
Mark Latonero, research lead at Data & Society

“…For humanitarian organizations, monitoring and collecting data are essential for delivering the right amount of aid to the right people at the right place and time. When these organizations collect data, they are trusted more than companies or governments because their mandates include the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. Yet to date, the humanitarian sector has not developed the calculus to weigh the benefits of digital identity systems against the costs to fundamental rights. … One might say that in a war zone, the risk to privacy is insignificant compared with the dangers of going without food. This may be true in the immediate moment. But potential harms related to data are often latent or shifted to a later time. If an individual or group’s data is compromised or leaked to a warring faction, it could result in violent retribution for those perceived to be on the wrong side of the conflict. … There need to be opt-out alternatives for individuals that will not result in the denial of aid. … When decision makers turn to technology as a solution they need to be aware of both the immediate trade-offs and unintended consequences. Without this awareness, [a humanitarian situation] could become an extreme example of a larger problem — the creation of a digital underclass who are forced to hand over their personal data in exchange for basic needs like food without dignity and choice” (7/11).