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Privacy and Missing Persons in Natural Disasters

In April 2013, Fordham Law's Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) and the Commons Lab of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars issued a report titled “Privacy and Missing Persons after Natural Disasters,” prepared as part of a joint project. The project is part of an international effort led by the Missing Persons Community of Interest (MPCI) that is unifying a wide array of databases and technologies to enhance searches for missing persons following natural disasters.  MPCI, which emerged in response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, includes participants from local disaster management, international humanitarian relief organizations, private sector technology companies, nonprofits, and digital volunteer communities.

The report offers a roadmap to the legal and policy issues surrounding privacy and missing persons following natural disasters. It provides strategies that humanitarian organizations, private sector organizations, volunteers, and policymakers can pursue to help those affected by major natural disasters. For example, the report recommends that the United States government exercise existing legal authority to support appropriate sharing of personal information about missing persons following natural disasters. More broadly, the report recommends that those developing technologies to share information about missing persons implement design principles that carefully balance privacy consistent with existing legal obligations. The report also calls on privacy policymakers, legislators, and regulators to take steps to clarify how privacy rules apply to missing persons activities in identified key areas so that missing persons activities can proceed without the threat of legal liability.

The CLIP project team consisted of Professor Joel R. Reidenberg, Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Chair in Law and Academic Director of CLIP, Robert Gellman, a privacy and information policy consultant who previously served as chief counsel to the U.S. House of Representative Government Operations Committee and served as a member of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics at the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, Jamela Debelak, Fordham CLIP’s former executive director, and two student researchers, Adam Elewa and Nancy Liu.

The project was supported by the Wilson Center and a gift made by Fordham University alumnus and trustee Ed Stroz and his digital risk management company, Stroz Friedberg.

A copy of the report is available for download here.

Update to Privacy and Missing Persons after Natural Disasters (March 2014)