The Signal Code: A Human Rights Approach to Information During Crisis

Report
from Harvard University
Published on 11 Jan 2017 View Original

Harvard Researchers Codify Rights to Information During Disasters: “Signal Code” Finds Five Human Rights Apply to Humanitarian Data Use

The Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health today published the Signal Code: A Human Rights Approach to Information During Crisis. The Signal Code identifies five human rights that all people have related to information during crisis: 1. The Right to Information; 2. The Right to Protection; 3. The Right to Privacy and Security; 4. The Right to Data Agency; and 5. The Right to Rectification and Redress.

"The Signal Code’s rights-based approach represents an essential step toward developing professional ethics for the use of information communication technologies and data by humanitarian actors,” stated Michael VanRooyen, MD, MPH, Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Chair of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine. “The history of humanitarian action shows that preventing unintended harm to the very populations humanitarians seek to assist requires a rights-based approach.”

The Signal Code is based on six months of analysis of existing international human rights and humanitarian law and standards to articulate what human rights apply to how data and information technologies should and should not be employed in emergencies. The document was reviewed by seventeen outside experts, including leaders in humanitarian response, data ethics, and international law.

“There is emerging quantitative and qualitative evidence that the burgeoning use of information communication technologies and the data that they produce by humanitarian actors are causing harm to vulnerable populations,” stated Nathaniel A. Raymond, Director of the Signal Program at HHI. “The absence of a rights-based approach to using these important tools has set back the creation of ethical obligations and minimum technical standards for their safe and responsible use.”

The Signal Program was founded in 2012 to address ethical challenges related to information technologies identified by HHI during the pilot phase of the Satellite Sentinel Project. Since that time, the Signal Program has been a leader in the development of ethical guidelines and scientifically tested methodologies for employing information technologies in humanitarian response.

The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) is a University-wide academic and research center in humanitarian crisis and leadership supported by Harvard University’s Office of the Provost and based at the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The mission of HHI is to conduct research and education on the practice of relieving human suffering in war and disaster by advancing the science and practice of humanitarian response worldwide.

Press Inquiries: Faine Greenwood
greenwood@hsph.harvard.edu