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Privacy protection system for biometrics developed to better ICRC humanitarian aid

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Privacy protection system for biometrics developed to better ICRC humanitarian aid

The results of six scientific research projects carried out under an initiative dubbed Engineering for Humanitarian Action are expected to be useful to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in its mission of providing better humanitarian assistance around the world, including aid distribution using biometrics.

One of the six is a system to use privately-held biometrics for aid distribution.

The projects, which are an initiative of the ICRC, the ETH Zurich and the EPFL (both public research universities in Switzerland), are meant to help the ICRC better plan and implement its humanitarian activities in intervention settings, such as during wars and conflicts, using technologies, according to the project result summary published by the ICRC.

Results of the projects already completed will among other things help the ICRT handle logistical issues in the provision of healthcare, protect refugees through biometrics, make its construction projects more sustainable, as well as create new digital infrastructure to protect against cyber-attacks.

Specifically, one of projects was to develop a biometric system that protects personal information and is suitable for deployment in humanitarian settings as a way of easily verifying the identity of aid beneficiaries in emergency situations, while safeguarding their personal data.

Developers of the system say the data privacy is enhanced thanks to two factors: a decentralized system in which users hold their data as tokens to reduce chances of data leaks, as well as improved accountability from small-scale data collection.

“This work is critical to us because leaked data in the wrong hands can be used for harmful purposes and even put people’s lives in danger,” says ICRC project partner Vincent Graf Narbel.

In a recent article, a civil society researcher called on African governments to put in place safeguards against risks that come with the use of biometrics and digital ID in humanitarian settings.

Commenting on the new research, the ICRC vice president Gilles Carbonnier says: “Fast advances in science and technology offer huge potential to unlock innovation for greater humanitarian impact. As we turn research findings into action, there is much more to come.”

“We are very much looking forward to seeing the real-world impact of the projects already completed or in progress, as well as new proposals. Our researchers are hugely motivated to contribute to a better world in these turbulent times,” says EPFL president Martin Vetterli.

His counterpart of ETH Zurich remarks: “The collaboration shows how digital technologies and scientific expertise support the ICRC in carrying out its important work and thus help people in need.”

Andreas Dracopoulos, co-president of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, one of the donors to the research project, remarks that “bringing humanitarian action and science closer together, as this collaborative initiative will do, is how we ensure that technological development helps improve life for those that need it the most.”

The other research projects are intended to develop systems which can secure digital infrastructure, counter harmful information used against humanitarian organizations, ensure better medical care through efficient logistics, come up with AI systems to estimate population density in crisis areas, as well as ensure more sustainable construction in the humanitarian aid milieu such as the construction of healthcare facilities and other basic infrastructure.

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