Data Protection in Humanitarian Action

27 January 2016

The Brussels Privacy Hub at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) intend to run a project exploring the relationship between data protection law and humanitarian action.

The provision of services to vulnerable persons by organizations working in humanitarian emergencies such as armed conflicts, other situations of violence, migration, natural disasters, and epidemics requires the collection and processing of a great deal of, often highly sensitive, personal data. To deal with humanitarian emergencies, it is in many cases necessary for personal data to flow between the concerned countries.

There is also increasing interest from both the humanitarian world, and the donors supporting it, in identifying innovative ways of providing better, and more efficient humanitarian assistance. This often involves exploring the possibilities offered by new technologies.

At the same time, as data protection and privacy laws develop at a faster pace, there is a lack of capacity and expertise to analyse how developing data protection and privacy rules actually apply to data collected for humanitarian purposes, particularly when adopting new technologies.

This requires the identification of clear guidance in respect of data processing in humanitarian action. This should be developed based on the key principles set out in international human rights law and international humanitarian law, the 1990 UN Guidelines for the Regulation of Computerized Personal Data Files, and other relevant instruments relating to privacy and data protection, as well as humanitarian action guidelines and principles.

On the other hand, it is crucial to ensure that data protection rules be interpreted so as not to impede essential humanitarian action.

Considering that some of the organisations involved in humanitarian action derive their mandate from public international law, these questions concern not only data protection laws, but also, to some extent, public international law.


Data Protection in humanitarian action