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.
  •  Assist humanitarian organizations, and those that are currently adopting data protection policies and practices, with issues that arise in the scope of their work.
  • Identify data protection concerns with use of new technologies in the humanitarian sector, and formulate appropriate guidance to address them.

The project involved the organisation of 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. The project brought together key experts in the area of data protection law (academia and practitioners), practitioners from major humanitarian organisations and agencies (governmental and non-governmental), and interested stakeholders from the private sector.


  • 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 Handbook on Data Protection in Humanitarian Action addresses questions that  arise in applying data protection to international humanitarian action, and is addressed to staff of international humanitarian organisations and NGOs who are involved in the processing of personal data, particularly those in charge of advising on and applying data protection standards. It is hoped that it may also prove useful to other parties, such as data protection authorities, private companies, and others involved in international humanitarian action.


Connect with us

Brussels Privacy Hub

Law Science Technology & Society (LSTS)

Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Pleinlaan 2 • 1050 Brussels



Stay informed

Keep up to date of our activities and developments. Sign up to our newsletter:

My Newsletter

Copyright © Brussels Privacy Hub