Aid and AI: The Challenge of Reconciling Humanitarian Principles and Data Protection

J Zomignani Barboza, L JasmontaitÄ—-Zaniewicz, L Diver, ‘Aid and AI: The Challenge of Reconciling Humanitarian Principles and Data Protection’ (2020) Privacy and Identity 2019: Privacy and Identity Management. Data for Better Living: AI and Privacy 161. Available at


Artificial intelligence systems have become ubiquitous in everyday life, and their potential to improve efficiency in a broad range of activities that involve finding patterns or making predictions have made them an attractive technology for the humanitarian sector. However, concerns over their intrusion on the right to privacy and their possible incompatibility with data protection principles may pose a challenge to their deployment. Furthermore, in the humanitarian sector, compliance with data protection principles is not enough, because organisations providing humanitarian assistance also need to comply with humanitarian principles to ensure the provision of impartial and neutral aid that does not harm beneficiaries in any way. In view of this, the present contribution analyses a hypothetical facial recognition system based on artificial intelligence that could assist humanitarian organisations in their efforts to identify missing persons. Recognising that such a system could create risks by providing information on missing persons that could potentially be used by harmful actors to identify and target vulnerable groups, such a system ought only to be deployed after a holistic impact assessment has been made, to ensure its adherence to both data protection and humanitarian principles.