Data protection in Humanitarian Action


Data Protection in Humanitarian Action



Since July 2014, the Brussels Privacy Hub and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been running a project exploring the relationship between data protection law and humanitarian action.


The work of organisations working in humanitarian emergencies such as armed conflicts, other situations of violence, situations of forced displacement within and across national borders, migration, natural disasters, and epidemics is essential for the protection of life, integrity, and dignity of the vulnerable persons involved. This work 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 which in turn requires the identification of clear guidance in respect of data processing in humanitarian action. It is also crucial to ensure that data protection rules be interpreted so as not to impede essential humanitarian action.


Purpose of the project

By building bridges between stakeholders involved in international humanitarian action, the project seeks to:


Clarify the relationship between data protection laws and humanitarian action.

Identify data protection concerns with use of new technologies in the humanitarian sector, and formulate appropriate guidance to address them.


Topics to be covered

  • Data Analytics / Big Data
  • “Humanitarian” UAV/Drones
  • Biometrics
  • Mobile Cash Assistance
  • Cloud based data processing (including health data)
  • Internet of Things/Connected Devices
  • Basic concepts of data protection in humanitarian action
  • Legitimate basis for processing (informed consent, and alternatives)
  • Data sharing (transfers, and controller/processor relationship)
  • Bulk mobile text communication (SMS/ Messaging apps) including two way communication
  • Telemedicine
  • Staff monitoring



The project seeks to bring together key experts in the area of data protection law, practitioners from humanitarian organisations, data protection authorities, and interested stakeholders from the private sector. The project partners will engage with stakeholders through a series of closed-door workshops, under Chatham House rule, to allow open and frank discussions between experts, with a view to deepening understanding of practical and legal issues relevant to data processing in humanitarian action, as well as identifying solutions/recommendations/guidance.


Project outputs

The project will:


  • Draft a series of short papers on areas of interest for humanitarian action to provide guidance to the humanitarian sector;
  • Compile the papers into a Handbook on Data Protection and Humanitarian Action.

Useful References


  • Data protection in humanitarian action
  • ICRC Data Protection Office
  • ICRC Rules on Personal Data Protection

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Brussels Privacy Hub

Law Science Technology & Society (LSTS)

Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Pleinlaan 2 • 1050 Brussels



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