Data security, privacy and legal issues

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In their study, Beneito-Montagut et al. (2013) did not find any legal barriers restricting social media use by organisations. However, in general, some legal factors may restrict organisations’ use of social media as a source of data and information. First, since in the worst scenario we are dealing with life-or-death situations, the question arises of who is to be held liable if something goes wrong. The legal responsibilities in these cases are not very clear, as there are multiple actors in the equation, ranging from individuals providing data, to crisis mappers and organisations making use of that information. In addition, organisations may hesitate to further distribute information aggregated from social media if there are any validity concerns. Despite efforts to verify the data aggregated, without the establishment of clear regulations and responsibilities, organisations’ use of data for critical decision making could be hindered.

Second, there are issues concerning privacy and confidentiality. Organisations have to respect the privacy of individuals in crisis and emergency situations. Therefore, handling this type of data, for example geo-location, could restrict or present additional challenges for organisational freedom of action. In most cases, individuals should sign consents stating explicitly what type of data can be shared and who can use their personal data and for what purpose. Furthermore, it should be guaranteed that the systems and applications deployed are secure so as to prevent any misuse of private individuals’ personal data, for example, data identifying individuals who are vulnerable and at risk. (Burns & Shanley 2013).

Doubts and concerns over security and privacy issues have naturally had some influence on the willingness of individuals to use social media (publicly) and especially to provide and share personal data and information in crisis situations. For example, in political uprisings, fear of being identified by the opposition can cause individuals to turn to the use of closed social networks and groups.

When new technologies and social media services are applied in crisis communication, the terms of their use should be made clear.