BELGRADE, 26 August 2015 (IRIN) – Biometrics, for those of you who haven’t spent the last 10 years swearing at the automated passport gates at Heathrow, is the use of human measurements for identification. The most familiar biometrics are fingerprints, but the computer-powered scanning of eyes and faces is being implemented in a growing range of contexts. The origins of modern biometrics lies in the identification of criminals, but it wasthe war on terror that turned biometrics into the $13.8 billion industry it is today.
As a result the technology has leapt ahead in recent years – and leapt into some surprising places. You might use your fingerprint to access your smartphone, but everybody gets fingerprinted now, including schoolchildren.Facebook can recognise you even if it can’t see your face, but even music festival organisers have decided that facial recognition technology is a good bet. Despite longstanding concerns about privacy, biometrics clearly have their uses, and a growing range of sectors have been implementing them – including the humanitarian industry.
Biometrics in the humanitarian context are ostensibly focused on preventing identity fraud, but the basic dynamic was captured in this 2006 report from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in Malaysia:
“Nang Piang, a refugee from Myanmar, placed his finger tentatively on the biometrics scanner… ‘I don’t know what it is for, but I do what UNHCR wants me to do,’ he said… ‘This is an important step for UNHCR Malaysia as we strengthen the security of our registration system to prevent fraud,’ said Volker Türk, head of UNHCR in Malaysia, ‘Such a security measure will certainly enhance the credibility of UNHCR’s registration system in the eyes of the Malaysian government…’”
This statement makes clear that biometric registration is driven by the interests of national governments, technology companies and aid agencies – in that order.
Take a peek at UNICEF’s commentary using LMMS in cash transfers here.
On April 25th a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, followed by a second 7.3 magnitude shock on May 12th. When I started writing this entry, the morning newspaper was reporting that the death toll stood at over 8,700. Had the quake struck at night the causality numbers would have been far more. This said, there is so much damage to homes, schools, businesses and infrastructure.
When I arrived in the office later in that same morning, a colleague handed me a drawing done by a young boy that World Vision staff were working with in their Child Friendly Spaces. In the picture the young boy writes:
“In Nepal in 2015 [a] 7.6 [reciter] of earthquake is arrived. All the people are [living] in hen farm and tent. They have no money to get food.”
In this posting I would like to give you a wee update on our efforts to make available single country servers for each agency that uses the system.
Recall that the gist is to get access to a centralized server. If you followed a previous posting you know that we’ve had successful trials in getting access to such a just such a cloud server working.
For a subsequent trial we went into a part of Kenya that has horrific cellular coverage. Perfect for testing whether the field teams are comfortable configuring and using slightly more involved technologies.
The test Cloud server for Kenya has been running since we established it a few months ago. It’s purring like a kitten. We just need to empower field staff to be able to connect to the purring kitten.
On the request of a few readers who have emailed me after the Mama Told Me Sharing’s Good posting, please find attached to this the specific suggestions for better data protection guidelines in one document. Also included are some templates and reading from the Cash Learning Partnership that can help when formulating agreements with third parties who wish to tap into your data sets.
Data Sharing Checklist
LMMS’ers – listen up! Upgrades to the server and mobile applications are being packaged as we speak. Get ready for production deployments. The Product Dev team have the applications neatly organized and we’ve been communicating to a number of the tech support field guys on what’s required to complete the upgrades. Let me also note a few new things beyond the software. You will also be receiving a new acknowledgement form that needs to be completed after the upgrades have been applied. This will list the upgrades performed against servers and acknowledge the operating versions in the field.
You will also find a massive, completely rewritten user manual – fully annotated with screen shots and walk through on using the application. Remember as well that you also practice using the applications using the online demo server that has been set up for y’all (LINK to demo server). The demo server always has the latest release running and in many cases, even some of the newer features that we are working on but that are not in official releases.
With the upgrade release a number of suggested operating practices are being provided with respect to good practices associated with sharing personal beneficiary data. Please, please, please take a read of the suggested guidelines that I posted last night here (LINK to Data Sharing).
The version release brings together all the work we show cased under Sprint 3 earlier (see this LINK to sprint 3). It also includes the work we completed under Sprints 4 and 5. We showcased Sprints 4 and 5’s functionality to the community just over a week ago. There was a bit of feedback from those sessions that we wanted to incorporate in this release. This posting recaps information we presented in the last set of reviews. Also included in this posting are the User Acceptance Test results that you may find interesting.
Enjoy the reading and happy LMMS’ing when you get the upgrades. Remember to connect with the Product Development team and let us know how the applications are running and any observations about how to make things better (code, user manuals, our fashion sense)!
Data protection, good governance, data ethics – all these terms revolve around the issue of data privacy. The challenge with privacy is that it often means different things to different people. My perception of privacy will likely be very different to yours. For example, I give my mobile phone full rights to geo-tag my approximate locations to a whack of apps and I barely bat an eye. But what if I were someone attending a drug rehab clinic? Would I be more concerned about geo-tagged data on my whereabouts falling into the hands of insurance companies or potential employers?
Our digital world makes access to data, much easier. As people working in the humanitarian sector, we need to understand the risks that come with this and to take on precautions. We need to have a greater sense of responsibility when we start collecting information (much of it very sensitive) from vulnerable populations. How we collect digital data, how we report on it and, for the purposes of this blog entry, how we share data, needs to be approached cautiously, with clear thinking and with plenty of good preparation on policies and practices.
The point of tonight’s entry is to simply reinforce the message that as end-users of software systems like LMMS and as mangers of staff using those systems, you have a duty to use such systems responsibly. Shirking responsibility is not good. Doing your share to protect the privacy rights of individuals we interact with – that’s great.
While there is much to be said on what we actually collect and why (see this LINK for just one example we’re grappling with), this entry is predominately focused on the issue of sharing data. Before you leave, I’ll also give you a checklist of things to consider as you move to share data.
Years ago I was involved with ALNAP in studying innovation for the humanitarian sector. Kim Scriven was a researcher working on studying innovation and the challenges to innovation. Below is a reposting from Kim’s HIF blog where he reflects on LMMS and the long road to innovation.
Published: Jul-10-2014 on the Humanitarian Innovations Fund website.
Last month I attended a workshop session in sunny Geneva, bringing together the people who’ve been involved in the development and testing of Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS). LMMS is an information technology solution that supports ‘last mile’ management functions, by digitizing recipient lists, and recording exactly what has been distributed to who, when and where. By doing this, it can strengthen the effectiveness and accountability of service delivery such as food or cash distributions. An overview of the system can be found here. By digitising the final interaction between the aid system and the user, it has the potential to collect powerful data, improve the experience of the affected population, and bring aid agencies in line with the basic practices of private sector distribution and logistics firms.
This was an interesting session for me:
The Cash Learning Partnership May Bulletin edition gives details on a recent study on beneficiary accountability using IT systems. The study was conducted in Tacloban, Philippines and in Maradi, Niger. A copy of the bulletin is listed here.
In May 2014, World Vision with funding from the Canadian Government conducted a study on beneficiary accountability and the use of Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS is a mobile IT platform for humanitarian service delivery).The study covered World Vision and partner agencies using LMMS in shelter, food and cash distributions in the Philippines and Niger. Using a structured interview format, which included questions relating to the Principles set out in the document: Protecting Beneficiary Privacy (CaLP, 2014), meetings were held with beneficiaries and agency staff with experience of LMMS.
That term needs to enter the vernacular of every aid worker. On Friday 23rd May, at 6:42 PM here in Kuala Lumpur, I logged on and witnessed a live distribution of items run by World Vision in a small corner of Kenya (Thavu in the division of Kathonzweni in Makueni).
This innocent sounding activity is the culmination of … well, I can’t tell you how much work.
Over the last year, we have been slogging away to create an alternative architecture for how LMMS can be taken to the next level … infrastructure, architecture, security, more web services, and deployment methodologies to quickly scale systems for World Vision using Amazon Web Services. This is cutting edge stuff!
Essentially, if a World Vision country office or a field operation team is assured of Internet connectivity, we knew that we could help empower them to access one single LMMS server to perform all their operational needs. Just needed some time and some money to do it. Now if your eyes have glazed over. Unglaze ‘em! Seriously this is a BIG deal. It can mean fewer expenses on hardware costs (maintenance, replacements etc), it can a mean a small centralized tech team to do the backend set up for you, it can simplify your field staff lives, it can mean one step consolidation of data for you. It could also mean sharing that data with other stakeholders if that’s deemed cool.