New(ish) report from OCHA on humanitarianism and cyber-warfare

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I set this report aside when I saw it posted on Twitter last month but have not had a chance to read it until now. OCHA has released an "occasional policy paper" (I guess that absolves them from the obligation of publishing one on a schedule?) discussing and providing guidelines for the use, collection, and exchange of information related to humanitarian operations, and the relationship of this information management to security and cyber-warfare threats. As an epidemiologist with experience in both knowledge management and disease surveillance, the report was particularly interesting to me. It is not too long and is pretty interesting stuff.
In 2013, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) examined emerging issues relating to information and communications, particularly the spread of cell phones and connectivity, advanced data analytics and other tools. Humanitarianism in the Network Age, the first UN report to identify information as a basic need in humanitarian response, sketched a vision of a future in which affected people produce and share information in real time with each other and with humanitarian responders, disasters are better anticipated through sophisticated monitoring systems, and accurate data and analysis clear the fog of war.

However, the “Network Age” also comes with risks and challenges. A humanitarian crisis can create a justification for waiving concerns about how information is collected and used, even as cyber-warfare, digital crime and government surveillance rises, particularly in unstable contexts.

To deal with these challenges, Humanitarianism in the Network Age recommended that the humanitarian sector develop robust ethical guidelines for the use of information. It specifically called for “do no harm” standards that clearly address liability, privacy and security. This report looks in more depth at these issues and makes recommendations to ensure that emerging technology is used responsibly.
Here is a screen capture of the key messages:

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