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Big Data in development and humanitarian aid: next step in privacy debate

How can ‘Big Data’ be used in development and humanitarian aid, and what are the risks? Leiden University and the United Nation’s Global Pulse are organising an international expert meeting in The Hague on 23 October.

Launch of new international network

International experts are coming together at the meeting on 'Big Data for Development and Humanitarian Action: Towards Responsible Governance' to exchange knowledge and formulate solutions for the responsible use of Big Data. The International Data Responsibility Group will also be launched, a partnership between Leiden University, the municipality of The Hague and a worldwide network of international partners. The aim is to develop international guidelines for the responsible use of Big Data in peace and security.

Effective coordination of emergency aid

The public debate on Big Data is dominated by privacy versus political-economic arguments. To date little attention has been paid to opportunities for development and humanitarian aid. Big Data can, for example, show where people are in a disaster area and can also be used for effectively coordinating emergency aid. But the use of Big Data may bring with it ethical objections and risks.

Concrete applications

A range of different applications will be discussed at the meeting, including the use of migration data in the context of the current refugee crisis, the use of mobile phone data in combatting Ebola and the use of satellite images to show the damage from earthquakes. The participants will also discuss the ethical objections and risks inherent in these applications: What information may we use? Who is in control of the data? What conditions have to be met before the data can be shared? By answering these questions, the aim is to arrive at a set of agreements that will ensure the responsible use of Big Data.


  • JoAnn Stonier, Global Chief Privacy Officer, MasterCard Worldwide
  • Nicolas de Cordes, Vice President Marketing Anticipation for the Orange Group
  • William Hoffman, Head of Data-Driven Development, World Economic Forum
  • Nuno Nunes, Coordinator, Global CCCM Cluster, International Organisation for Migration
  • Robert Kirkpatrick, Director, UN Global Pulse, EOSG
  • Jose Ramon Albert, Philippine Institute for Development Studies
  • Alexander Dix, Commissioner, Berlin Data Protection Authority
  • John Edwards, Commissioner, New Zealand Data Protection Authority
  • Jacob Kohnstamm, President, Dutch Data Protection Authority
  • Christopher Kuner, Brussels Privacy Hub, VUB
  • Drudeisha Madhub, Commissioner, Mauritius Data Protection Authority
  • Ulrich Mans, Peace Informatics Lab, Centre for Innovation, Leiden University
  • Blair Stewart, Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Office of Privacy Commissioner of New Zealand

The meeting is part of the annual gathering on the periphery of the Amsterdam Privacy Week (23-29 October). Admission by invitation only.

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Leiden University Peace Informatics Lab

The Peace Informatics Lab was founded in 2013 in The Hague to apply Big Data in working towards a better world. ‘We associate Big Data primarily with surveillance – monitoring telephone and internet traffic – and with commercial activities, such as tailoring adverts to the individual,’ commented Dr Ulrich Mans, participant at the expert meeting and co-founder of the lab. Mans also works at the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University. ‘So far, not much attention has been paid to the question of how Big Data can be used to benefit the world and society. This is something we’re now studying. Our starting point is the practical side, not just theoretical models. What does Big Data mean for organisations in this sector, such as UN organisations, the International Criminal Court or an NGO that’s dealing with poverty in Mali? At the same time, Big Data remains closely linked to the ethical issue of responsible use of data sources. That will be a constant factor in our research, and we are very pleased that we’ve been able to organise this meeting together with our colleagues from Global Pulse to bring practice and science closer together. The Peace Informatics Lab combines three different elements: data science, political science and design thinking. This combination means we will be able to construct a data innovation hub, in close collaboration with partners such as the Leiden Centre of Data Science, e-law and the Institute for Public Administration. Further research will be conducted from 2016 at the Campus The Hague Faculty, together with the new Institute for Security and Global Affairs.’

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