Stefaan Verhulst and Cameran Ashraf on the Use of Data to Help Ukrainian Refugees

August 2, 2022

CMDS Advisory Board Member Stefaan Verhulst and Core Faculty Member Cameran Ashraf participated in a timely online discussion organized by the European University Institute’s Global Peace Tech Hub on how to use data to help Ukrainian refugees.

Stefaan Verhulst talked about the importance of data in a situation like the current war, saying that without data, it would be hard to manage and anticipate what the needs might be and to make informed decisions about the allocation of resources for refugees. He discussed the importance of non-traditional data sets, which he said offered a real opportunity but also a real challenge. He pointed to the importance of digital self-determination for refugees.

“We really need to come up with a better way to develop a social license with policies in place before a crisis happened on how you go about using data that impacts people's lives in a radical way,” he said.

Cameran Ashraf talked about how the data that are out there can be weaponized. For example, the individuals of prominence among the refugees may have Wikipedia entries or newspaper articles about them. In some crisis situations, such data can become information used to target, harass, isolate and intimidate individuals, he said. But deleting such data means that in some ways, you erase people’s history. You might risk compromising people’s history and the integrity of what they have been through, he said.

The other participants included Olaf Osica, Director of strategy and analysis office of the City of Warsaw and associate fellow at the College of Europe Natolin campus, Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay, Director of the Center for Internet and Society of CNRS, Emmanuel Letouzé, Director and Co-Founder of Data-Pop Alliance and Bruno Lepri, Head of Mobile and Social Computing (MobS) Lab at Fondazione Bruno Kessler. The discussion was moderated by Andrea Renda, Head of Global Governance, Regulation, Innovation and the Digital Economy (GRID) at CEPSa and professor of Digital Policy at the EUI School of Transnational Governance.