Big Data for Peace and Justice

Lin Uni

By Bert Segier

At Leiden University in The Hague, the Centre for Innovation and its partners organized a week-long Summer School on Big Data for Peace and Justice in August, at which ICMP participated. The Centre for Innovation describes itself as a ”do tank” (in other words a tank that “does” as well as “thinks”). Its mission is “to explore and create enterprising projects at the juncture of education, technology and society”.

On 16 August, ICMP was represented on an expert panel of Innovators for Peace and Justice. The event included an interactive session where audience members had an opportunity to engage with ICMP’s Director of Institutional and Civil Society Development, Deborah Ruiz Verduzco, and with experts from the UN World Food Programme, PeaceTech Lab and UN Global Pulse on “the opportunities and challenges of innovation for peace and justice around the world”.

Dr. Ruiz Verduzco described the workings of ICMP’s Identification Data Management System (iDMS) and Online Inquire Center (OIC) and explained how these systems enable all stakeholders in a missing persons process to participate in the process. ICMP’s Data Systems Program provides effective methods for collecting, storing, and sharing personal data efficiently and securely. This is central to the whole process of locating and identifying missing persons. The program makes it possible to bring together all of the disparate elements in investigations that span different countries and continents, different time periods and different social, cultural and legal environments. The iDMS is accessible from anywhere in the world via the Online Inquiry Center (OIC).

The OIC makes it possible for families of the missing to report a missing person, to update information they have provided, and to invite ICMP to collect their DNA reference samples. Basic biographical information about a person who has gone missing – name, date and place of birth, physical description, names of family members, and circumstances (where these are known) when the person was last seen – can be submitted through the OIC. This information – depending on the degree of access which the person reporting the information is prepared to allow – may be accessed by individuals or agencies searching for missing persons.

Information provided by families is stored in the iDMS together with information obtained from other organizations, collected in the field, or gathered from the media and other sources. DNA profiles are also stored in the iDMS.

The OIC also allows families of the missing to establish contact with ICMP in a secure way.

Civil society organizations can work together with ICMP to collect data about missing persons. They can access the iDMS to store collected data securely, and they can use the iDMS to standardize and systemize data they have collected. Civil society organizations retain control over personal information, subject to the consent of the family members who have provided the data.

At a breakfast lecture on Friday 19 August, ICMP’s Director for Policy and Cooperation, Andreas Kleiser, provided participants with a historical overview of the use and protection of data within the framework of human rights and the rule of law.

Mr. Kleiser explained how ICMP is able to ensure the highest standards of protection by strictly applying the basic principle that data can only be used or shared with the explicit consent of those who provide the data. In addition, he described the system under which ICMP stores data on its own servers, which maintain technical security and which are legally protected by ICMP’s status as an international organization.

Discussion at both events focused on the ways in which big data can contribute to enhancing peace and justice, and ICMP presented practical examples of how this is being done in practice through its iDMS and OIC.