Panel 5 – Governing Ethics, Accountability, and Data in Disasters

Conveners:  Nathan Clark (University of Copenhagen), Kristoffer Albris (University of Copenhagen), Paolo Cavaliere (University of Delaware) and Femke Mulder (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Abstract: Disasters are becoming digital. More and more, professional disaster management systems and bottom-up, volunteer initiatives processes rely on (big) data, digital technologies, social media platforms and geospatial information to assess risks, organize recovery efforts, and perform early warnings. There is indeed a sense that the digital revolution in its various guises and expressions has already had profound effects on the conduct and theory of disaster governance, while holding even greater potentials for the future (Palen and Anderson 2016). Yet the use of digital technologies and data for disaster governance also brings with it a number of unaddressed and unanswered challenges and issues (Alexander 2014). For instance, how are citizens’ rights of anonymity, privacy, security and data ownership guaranteed when they contribute – knowingly or unknowingly – to disaster management efforts through social media and other digital platforms? How do the uses – and potential misuses – of digital technologies and data in disaster management affect questions of liability and responsibility? How do authorities and communities react to misinformation and “fake news” in disaster situations? What sorts of questions does the issue of data sensitivity for aid relief in complex emergencies present us with? How do rules, norms and practices shape disaster technologies and vice versa? These are just some of the questions at stake in the politics and ethics of the use of data and digital technologies in disasters and emergencies. They also give rise to broader lines of enquiry. Under the ethics and accountability lens, practitioners and scholars should ask whether a certain action can bring any benefit or can undermine both response and the integrity of either an agency, organization or the state. How can we address complex ethics and accountability issues that relate to the overall disaster governance? Crucially, the plethora of new digital innovations in disasters and emergencies occur at different scales, from the local to the global levels, and in different tempi, from immediate to long-term implications, which often makes it hard to comparatively discuss their ethical and political implications. For this panel, we invite papers that analyse disaster governance and deal critically with how (big) data, social media platforms, GIS and remote sensing technologies, and other emerging digital technologies, are being used throughout all phases of the disaster management cycle, as well as in humanitarian emergencies. We especially encourage papers that simultaneously address theoretical questions and practice-oriented problems.