Stage 3
17:30 - 18:30
Tech for Good
Data Responsibility on the Front Lines: Protection and Security in Humanitarian Response

Short thesis

The use of data and information communication technologies (ICTs) by civil society organizations, governments, and private sector entities is now a mainstream, day-to-day part of how humanitarian and development projects happen. However, there are few real world examples of how to responsibly use these tools in ethical and effective ways that protect and respect human rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. What are greatest threats, harms and risks associated with using ICTs in humanitarian environments, and how might humanitarian actors mitigate these? Consequently, it is also often unclear how ICTs stand to benefit humanitarian action. The panelists will share their recent experiences trying to create best practices and design new technology for using data in extremely complex environments such as Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, and Lebanon.


Civil society, governmental and private sector partners are increasingly engaged in and reliant on digital data and ICTs for the delivery of public services and support to vulnerable populations. However, emerging and related cyber- and data-reliant risks threaten the human security and human rights of these populations, undermining their development potential.  

The proliferation of ICTs among affected populations and humanitarian and development actors alike exposes critical, unaddressed gaps in the legal, ethical and technological frameworks that have traditionally defined and governed humanitarians’ professional conduct. These gaps are an open secret, as is the lack of professionalization around data protection and ICT use. Increasingly, they are a disaster waiting to happen. As evidenced by the recent security breach of a software platform used by aid agencies to store the data of vulnerable people, the risk of such ICT- and data-related disasters is very real and far-reaching in the humanitarian and development sectors.

In the face of these evermore complex threats, the need for capacity development for digital security and cyber resilience is increasingly recognized in the international humanitarian and development communities as critical. Unfortunately, an effective approach for such capacity development is lacking.   

In this panel discussion convened by the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the École polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), speakers from a diverse set of backgrounds will explore and debate the major challenges and opportunities of digital security and cyber resilience in the 21st century.

Through the unique experience and perspectives of the speakers, the panel will bring theory and practice together to frame a critical narrative and agenda for ensuring that ethics and human rights are central to global and national debates around digital security and cyber resilience.

supported by BMZ