The Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School has teamed up with the Commons Lab of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to work on a project to address privacy concerns that stem from efforts to locate missing persons during national disasters.

The Privacy and Missing Persons in Natural Disasters Project is part of an effort led by the Missing Persons Community of Interest, which is trying to enhance searches for missing persons by bringing together technologies and individuals from local disaster management, humanitarian relief organizations, private technology companies and non-profits.

Fordham Law professor Joel Reidenberg, the academic director of CLIP, said that the CLIP team will evaluate three options MPCI is considering for their information sharing system, providing recommendations about how to “minimize the scope of privacy problems” and how to address issues that do arise.

Some of these concerns, Reidenberg said, would stem from the release of medical information, religious practices or other sensitive personal data often revealed in the search for a missing person. Even just revealing a person’s location could raise privacy issues, he said, if that person does not want to be found by a certain individual.

Reidenberg noted that organizations like the International and American Red Cross “have very strict information sharing policies,” and privacy issues would have to be addressed for them to participate. “Outside of the United States, the sharing of information is more strictly regulated than it is in the United States,” Reidenberg added.

In addition to Reidenberg, the CLIP team will include Robert Gellman, previous chief counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Government Operations Committee; CLIP’s executive director Jamela Debelak, and student researchers Adam Elewa and Nancy Liu. Tim Schwartz, the founder of MPCI, will act as a technical consultant.

“Over the last 10 years, many missing persons data bases have sprung up, and we have found that the ability to connect people quickly has been extremely helpful during large-scale disasters such as the Japanese tsunami and the earthquake in Haiti,” Schwartz said in a statement. “But the impacts these technologies have on matter of individual privacy have not been assessed. This study will hopefully give us the ability to reflect on what we have been doing and create a framework so we can better serve the world with these systems.”

The team will produce a report for the October 2012 meeting of MPCI. The project is being supported in part by a $30,000 gift from Fordham University alumnus and trustee Ed Stroz and his digital risk management company, Stroz Friedberg.