Abstract: The use of digital technologies, social media platforms, and (big) data analytics is reshaping crisis management in the 21st century. In turn, the sharing, collecting, and monitoring of personal and potentially sensitive data during crises has become a central matter of interest and concern which governments, emergency management and humanitarian professionals, and researchers are increasingly addressing. This article asks if these rapidly advancing challenges can be governed in the same ways that data is governed in periods of normalcy. By applying a political realist perspective, we argue that governing data in crises is challenged by state interests and by the complexity of other actors with interests of their own. The article focuses on three key issues: 1) vital interests of the data subject vis-à-vis the right to privacy; 2) the possibilities and limits of an international or global policy on data protection vis-à-vis the interests of states; and 3) the complexity of actors involved in the protection of data. In doing so, we highlight a number of recent cases in which the problems of governing data in crises have become visible.
Keywords: big data; crisis management; data ethics; data governance; digital technologies; human rights; political realism