Blog post

A call for data protection in Libya

By Maria Saleh, ETC Services for Communities Officer


Setting up a call centre for vulnerable communities means getting schooled in the fundamentals of personal data protection


How do you respond when a cashier asks you for your email address? Or when a call centre asks you for personal information to verify your identity? Imagine that disclosing these details might not only result in spam emails or unsolicited text messages but could pose very real threats to your safety and security.

This is what people in Libya, whose lives have been devastated by conflict, deal with on a daily basis. They walk a personal security tightrope when going about their daily business. For example, when they obtain permits and licenses, and even when they use their phones or Internet. They are constantly weighing the advantages of fulfilling a basic need or desire with the very real danger of having their personal data fall into the wrong hands.

Informed consent is one of the main principles of data protection. So collecting and processing personal data is an important part of running a call centre. Privacy is a human right protected by international human rights law; the unintended use and disclosure of personal data violates these rights and may cause harm to vulnerable populations and to humanitarians, alike.

Humanitarian Hotline

This is why the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) is working to launch a humanitarian hotline as a common feedback mechanism (CFM) later this year to help these communities in Libya understand their humanitarian rights and give feedback about the assistance they receive.

“By providing services that enable connection between the partners on the ground and also to provide services to the people we serve […] being able to rely on telecommunication is really where it all starts,” says Samer AbdelJaber, WFP Country Director for Libya.

The feedback mechanism will “allow the UN community to work more efficiently together and to develop aid approaches that will put the affected population at the centre of the response,” says Chris Alagna, ETS Coordinator for Libya.

WFP staff and a cooperating partner at a distribution in Al Falah Camp in Tripoli. WFP / Sufyan Alashab
WFP staff and a cooperating partner at a distribution in Al Falah Camp in Tripoli. WFP / Sufyan Alashab


Building Trust

But building trust will not be easy.

After years of living in a volatile environment, people living in Libya have understandably lost trust in their institutions. They fear that their personal information will be used against them if their data are collected and end up in the wrong hands. “There is no single information source I can trust, and I feel worried when sharing my personal information,” says a Tripoli resident, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Let’s talk privately

Anyone calling a humanitarian helpline will likely share important private information.  The operator on the other end of the line needs to make sure the caller knows why and how their information will be collected and with whom it will be shared.

Data minimization is another fundamental consideration: only data which is relevant to a case should be recorded. Once a case is resolved, data needs to find its way to the garbage bin. This is the essence of data retention policy.

Understanding your rights

Callers need to know their data-driven rights. For example, they can refuse to share personal data, update their data, or withdraw consent at any point in the humanitarian exchange. They also have the right to be forgotten - which means full data erasure – if they chose so, regardless of the reason.


ETC long-time partner, Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européennes, Luxembourg (Government of Luxembourg), just announced funding for the central feedback mechanism in Libya. Read the press release here.