According to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to which the EU has acceded, all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection. In disaster risk management there is a need for more dedicated action to tackle underlying disaster risk drivers, such as the consequences of poverty and inequality. Furthermore, new technological tools based on innovations such as big data and AI, run the risk of intensifying existing systemic inequalities or introducing new ones, hence careful consideration of their ethical, social and legal implications is necessary.
- Promote the equality of all persons through collective attention to a general prohibition of discrimination.
- Ensure that different groups of people receive the same treatment.
- Ensure equality of contribution and access to information and collaborative information management systems as a potential way of addressing the hierarchical power structures that dominate most other areas of our lives.
- Be attentive to any unconscious or institutional biases that might be inadvertently introduced to your practices.
Equality before the law, non-discrimination, diversity, gender equality, the rights of children, the elderly and the disabled are one of the key principles of both the EU’s Charter and Convention of Human Rights. Although strongly aligned with the principle of non-discrimination, the Convention of Human Rights acknowledges that promoting ‘full and effective equality’ might mean taking measures that appear at odds with non-discrimination (see for example, ‘affirmative or positive action’).
In the digital age, innovations such as big data and AI have allowed decision-making algorithms to enter all aspects of daily life. However, algorithms too can be discriminatory. For example, Eubanks shows how such technologies can exaggerate inequalities as her work brings to light the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America (2018). As the ethics advisory group of the EDPS (2018: 18) states ‘novel forms of algorithmic discrimination pose a risk to equality of opportunity and to the fundamental right to be protected against digital networks that offer a wealth of often free and accessible information’.
In disaster risk management, the ongoing ‘informationalisation’ and ‘datafication’ along with the advent of social media and digital humanitarianism urge us to consider the digital inequalities and technological discriminations that such new practices bring along. These challenges range from understanding that those you are usually most in need of support might be the ones who have least access and understanding of these technologies (Murthy 2011 a, b) all the way to considering how the development of technological innovations in humanitarian response, such as drones, Big Data, etc. might be reliant on existing inequalities between a tightly-regulated and privacy-sensitive global North and a mostly unregulated global South (see Taylor and Broeders 2015).
Berners Lee, T. (1998) The World Wide Web: A very short personal history. [Link]
Council of Europe (1950) European Convention on Human Rights. [Link]
EDPS (EU Data Protection Supervisor) (2018) ‘Towards a digital ethics’, Ethics Advisory Group Report [Link]
Eubanks, V. (2018). Automating inequality: How high-tech tools profile, police, and punish the poor. St. Martin’s Press
UNISDR. (2015). Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – UNISDR. [Link]
Murthy, D. (2011a). New media and natural disasters: Blogs and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Information, Communication and Society, 1, 1–17. [DOI]