Data, Human Rights & Human Security

Team Members

What is the future of human rights and human security in a data-saturated world?

In today’s global digital ecosystem, cell phones can document and distribute images of physical violence. Drones and satellites can assess disasters from afar. Big Data collected from social media can provide real-time awareness about political protests. Yet practitioners, researchers, and policymakers face unique challenges and opportunities when assessing technological benefit, risk, and harm. How can these technologies be used responsibly to assist people in need, prevent abuse, and protect from harm?

For some years now, the humanitarian and development communities have explored new data-driven approaches, innovations, and interventions. However, for human rights and human security practitioners and policymakers, distinct issues emerge. While data and information have always been important for these fields, the nature of digital and networked technologies and their capabilities to collect, store, and analyze data is evolving rapidly.

The problem is that we simply do not know all the positive and negative impacts these new technologies will bring, which makes it difficult to make informed decisions. We do not yet know how data science, computation, and design thinking might influence traditional legal, interventionist, economic, and protectionist frameworks. It is unclear whether the same technologies that are transforming various aspects of our commercial and social life also have the potential to address human suffering, empowerment, and justice.

This program investigated data, human rights, and human security in relation to fields such as international development, crisis response, and philanthropy. Cross cutting concerns include data ethics, privacy, validity, biases, prediction, risks, sharing, governance, and cybersecurity.

The program identified questions and tensions arising in this space such as:

  • How should data analytics be used to make decisions in human rights and security domains?
  • What risks and benefits frameworks will guide decision makers about data-driven interventions?
  • Should values like privacy fluctuate in the face of immediate threats?
  • How will data collection and monitoring shape the practices of those that repress or advocate for human rights?
  • How can data regulation, policy, and standards effectively govern and provide accountability?
  • How must the human rights and human security fields interact with data tools and techniques that can identify specific individuals at risk?
  • Can general guidelines and principles be established for data interventions whose social applications are deeply contextual and enmeshed in power relationships?
  • Will private sector data sharing (or data philanthropy) become a positive and sustainable movement?

The ideas and questions above are addressed in a primer written for multiple stakeholders – from technologists, academics, and business to governments, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations.

Through partnerships, collaboration, original research, and technology development, this program strengthened cooperation across stakeholders to innovate and implement thoughtful, balanced, and responsible evidence-based responses to our current and future data-centered issues.

Collaborators include:

  • The Engine Room
  • International Data Responsibility Group
  • Responsible Data Forum
  • UN Global Pulse