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Databite No. 85: Sean McDonald

ebola and the law of disaster experimentation


July 7, 2016 - 12:00 pm

Data & Society
36 West 20th Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY, 10011

Databites are Data & Society's weekly lunch conversations focused on unresolved questions and timely topics of interest to our community. To request an invitation, please email events at data society dot net.

Sean McDonald presents: Ebola, Digital Public Interest, and the Law of Disaster Experimentation

As an increasing number of industries digitize, the economy around data analysis – particularly predictive modeling – has exploded. The problem is, we don’t have any real way to understand, analyze, or predict the accuracy of these predictive models. There is no context where this has higher potential – for good and harm – than humanitarian emergencies. 

One of the first, and worst, examples of this was the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. In its response to the escalating crisis, the humanitarian community sought out significant amounts of sensitive mobile data, epidemiological data models, and digital engagement tools, without understanding the impact it would have on the response effort. Whether that’s considered humanitarian innovation or disaster experimentation, there’s little question that it raises a significant number of legal, ethical, and practical questions. 

This talk will focus on the intersection of the public interest, the law, and the digital approaches that are increasingly defining the way that we invest public resources and provide public services. We’ll talk about the Ebola case, the trends in public sector digitization, and what that means for the practical and legal protections of vulnerable groups. 

Recommended reading:

Ebola: A Big Data Disaster.

Sean Martin McDonald works at the intersection of public interest technology, international law, and service delivery. He’s the CEO of FrontlineSMS and the author of “Ebola: A Big Data Disaster”.