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[liberationtech] Ebola: A Big Data Disaster

Louis Suárez-Potts luispo at
Sat Mar 5 12:53:46 PST 2016

Thanks for posting this. I'll be reading the case study this weekend. It's somewhat relevant to a talk I'll be giving later this month at the Strata + Hadoop conference, in San José, CA, on Big Data Ethics. I touch on the problem (read: fraught opportunity & responsibility) posed by the "Big Data" for government (and also private sector) actors. The Liberia instance is—lamentably—a good example of (quasi-) state failure that also points, I think we all hope, to what ought to be done, or more strongly, what must be done, if the protection of the local, regional, and even global populations is to be taken seriously by those we elect to be accountable.


> On 02 Mar 16, at 12:21, Sean McDonald <seanmartinmcdonald at> wrote:
> I'm excited to present some new research: "Ebola: A Big Data Disaster," published by the Center for Internet & Society (with support from the Media Democracy Fund). It's a look at the way that technology was used during the Ebola response - with a focus on Call Detail Records, the experimental nature of data modeling in humanitarian response, and how that likely violates West Africa's well-developed (but under-implemented) data laws.
> My hope is that it will kick off a larger discussion about the risks (legal and operational) of digitizing humanitarian response - especially when it involves the use of large scale, sensitive data like CDRs (all anonymization and re-identification caveats apply). As practice stands, international organizations are likely putting themselves and the people they help at considerable risk, in violation of human rights law, data protection law, local regulation, and potentially commercial property law (among other theories of litigation). 
> This case study focuses on Liberia, which didn't turn over CDR access - but many of the same operational considerations and laws apply in Sierra Leone and Guinea, where several mobile network operators did. 
> I'd love any thoughts, connections to people working on these issues, or critical feedback. 
> Best,
> Sean
> -- 
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