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[liberationtech] Ebola: A Big Data Disaster

Louis Suárez-Potts luispo at gmail.com
Tue Mar 8 13:44:11 PST 2016


> On 07 Mar 16, at 05:05, Sean McDonald <seanmartinmcdonald at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
> Hi Louis, 
> 
> Thanks for the kind response - great to hear that these issues are getting some attention at the Strata + Hadoop Event. 
> 
> One of the key points for me is that while the ethics of this are very important, the frame of the conversation continues to ignore that there are also laws that have a tremendous impact on the way these processes and systems should be defined. In other words, the more general talk of ethics is important, but it belies the more concerning reality, which is that ignoring the current state of practice (particularly in international contexts, with highly sensitive data) leaves organizations open to a lot of legal liability. 
> 

Absolutely agree. I tend not to be general in my talks and particular: to use the particular as symptom. The thrust of the idea of ethics here, for me, is that public officials (and their agents) are responsible—have a veritable fiduciary responsibility—to acquire relevant data, act on it, in ways that abide by regulatory provisions protecting the rights of community and the persons making them up. 

Note, I think there may be an interesting division here taking shape and having to do with the role of the state (ideal role that is, as well as practically feasible), and that of mobile technology, fancy or not. (Fancy would be smartphones and all they offer; not fancy would be older ones not lacking 3G+ capability but supporting SMS. The latter is what much of the world uses, of course, and will likely continue to use, even as their functionality is expanded, thanks in part to the work of Sean and those at FrontlineSMS, for instance. One suspects that when we reach the end of those rare earths required for fancier phones…...)

> It is just a matter of time before both financially and ethically motivated lawyers realize the opportunities created by the current state of practice. My concerns aren't such that I think we should abandon (what feels like the inevitable) digitization or data modeling, but that we need to rapidly invest in the capacity, processes, and regulatory infrastructure necessary to help make practice compliant and safe.
> 
> Let me know if there are ways I can be helpful to your talk or to advancing the conversation! 

Thanks—and will do.



> 
> Best,
> Sean
> 
best
Louis


> On Sat, Mar 5, 2016 at 3:53 PM, Louis Suárez-Potts <luispo at gmail.com> wrote:
> Sean,
> 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.
> 
> -louis
> 
> 
> > On 02 Mar 16, at 12:21, Sean McDonald <seanmartinmcdonald at gmail.com> 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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> 
> 




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