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New technologies, digitalisation and humanitarian data

New technologies are gradually being introduced in the context of armed conflicts and humanitarian crises. Although new technologies can improve the reach and effectiveness of humanitarian action, they potentially carry risks for the communities concerned. Switzerland is committed to the protection of civilians and a secure and stable digital space, and promotes the protection and responsible use of humanitarian data.

New technologies and data  can make humanitarian action more effective, e.g. in terms of facilitating searches for missing persons, distributing food or financial aid, providing faster and more reliable data to decision-makers, and disseminating crucial information to affected communities.

But these new technologies also carry certain risks. Social media networks provide direct access to communities, but they also potentially spread misinformation, fake news and hate speech. In addition, access to these technologies is not inclusive and there is still a general lack of understanding about their use, potential and risks.

Protection and responsible use of data in humanitarian action

In collecting data relating to humanitarian action, a number of issues need to be addressed, such as ensuring that data is only used for humanitarian purposes and not used to e.g. monitor people or restrict welfare access. Another issue is how to limit the risk of data re-identification and ensure that programme beneficiaries remain anonymous. It is essential that answers are found to all these questions and that solutions and best practices are developed that maximise the benefits of new technologies and minimise the risks.

Switzerland is aware that the humanitarian data ecosystem is essentially interconnected, which means that individual organisations cannot address all of these issues alone. It is therefore promoting cross-sectoral dialogue and partnerships between the various stakeholders, including humanitarian and international organisations, states, civil society, academia, and the private sector.

In this context, and in line with its Digital Foreign Policy Strategy 2021–24, Switzerland has advocated a secure and stable digital space in a number of multilateral processes. It also launched the Humanitarian Data and Trust Initiative to ensure that data collected in humanitarian action is protected and used responsibly.

Humanitarian Data and Trust Initiative

The Humanitarian Data and Trust Initiative is a multi-stakeholder initiative which was launched jointly in 2020 by Switzerland, the ICRC and OCHA. The aim of the initiative is to advance the protection and responsible use of humanitarian data, focusing on four aims:

  1. accelerating the responsible deployment of data-related technologies in humanitarian action
  2. minimising potential risks and maximising the benefits of data-related technologies for affected people
  3. developing shared principles and guidelines and building consensus on best practices among participants
  4. building trust between parties through dialogue and  transparency

These aims are implemented under three pillars:

  • Policy and dialogue: convene discussions on specific priority themes that help to catalyze collective action.
  • Research and development: advance research that will enable well-informed policy decisions/recommendations and practical action.
  • Education and outreach: disseminate the outcomes of thematic discussions and research results to the relevant audiences.

Last update 02.08.2022