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Special Advisor to the ICT4Peace Foundation, Sanjana Hattotuwa, writes to SciDev.net on the importance of maintaining a rights based perspective when dealing with and understanding 'Big Data’.

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"These questions pose a central challenge for civil society in post-war Sri Lanka and similar settings: to convince fellow citizens that data in the public domain can strengthen democracy post-war — but also alert them to the fact that no matter how benevolent data systems seem, any platform that hordes information without meaningful accountability or oversight endangers peace and courts violent conflict.

Simple measures can help meet that challenge. Compelling data driven journalism initiatives that use big data to interrogate social and political issues can help flag trends and patterns around governance.  And civil society can use big data to strengthen its own research and advocacy, without relying on anecdotal evidence alone.

Civic education, for one, can alert people to both the benefits and dangers of big data. Global institutions like the UN have a role in this, and through big data they could even improve their effectiveness.

Importantly, these conversations need to put a human face to big data — to treat the datasets not as de-personalised information seen in the aggregate but as vast collections of individuals, who all have rights. If we lose sight of this, big data risks becoming a tool of and for the worst of us, when it should give life to and strengthen a more democratic future."

Read the full article on SciDev.net here, which is part of a special edition looking at big data for development.