Monday, 12 May 2014

US Report - Findings of the Big Data and Privacy Working Group Review

In January 2014 President Barack Obama announced reforms to intelligence community practices following the leaks by Edward Snowden. John Podesta, a counsellor to the US president, authored the report. It calls on America to lead a global discussion on the subject of state surveillance, and the proper balance between security and privacy. John Podesta said:

"In January, President Obama asked me to lead a wide-ranging review of "big data" and privacy—to explore how these technologies are changing our economy, our government, and our society, and to consider their implications for our personal privacy... our review sought to understand what is genuinely new and different about big data and to consider how best to encourage the potential of these technologies while minimizing risks to privacy and core American values.

Over the course of 90 days, we met with academic researchers and privacy advocates, with regulators and the technology industry, with advertisers and civil rights groups. The President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology conducted a parallel study of the technological trends underpinning big data. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy jointly organized three university conferences at MITNYU, and U.C. Berkeley. We issued a formal Request for Information seeking public comment, and hosted a survey to generate even more public input.

Today, we presented our findings to the President. We knew better than to try to answer every question about big data in three months. But we are able to draw important conclusions and make concrete recommendations for Administration attention and policy development in a few key areas."

He then said:

"The big data revolution presents incredible opportunities in virtually every sector of the economy and every corner of society.

Big data is saving lives... Big data is making the economy work better... Big data is making government work better and saving taxpayer dollars... But big data raises serious questions, too, about how we protect our privacy and other values in a world where data collection is increasingly ubiquitous and where analysis is conducted at speeds approaching real time. In particular, our review raised the question of whether the "notice and consent" framework, in which a user grants permission for a service to collect and use information about them, still allows us to meaningfully control our privacy as data about us is increasingly used and reused in ways that could not have been anticipated when it was collected.

Big data raises other concerns, as well. One significant finding of our review was the potential for big data analytics to lead to discriminatory outcomes and to circumvent longstanding civil rights protections in housing, employment, credit, and the consumer marketplace."

And so:

"No matter how quickly technology advances, it remains within our power to ensure that we both encourage innovation and protect our values through law, policy, and the practices we encourage in the public and private sector."

The report made six actionable policy recommendations to the President:

"1. Advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. 

2. Pass National Data Breach Legislation. 

3. Extend Privacy Protections to non-U.S. Persons. Privacy is a worldwide value that should be reflected in how the federal government handles personally identifiable information about non-U.S. citizens. The Office of Management and Budget should work with departments and agencies to apply the Privacy Act of 1974 to non-U.S. persons where practicable, or to establish alternative privacy policies that apply appropriate and meaningful protections to personal information regardless of a person's nationality.

4. Ensure Data Collected on Students in School is used for Educational Purposes.

5. Expand Technical Expertise to Stop Discrimination. 

6. Amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The laws that govern protections afforded to our communications were written before email, the internet, and cloud computing came into wide use. Congress should amend ECPA to ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is consistent with that afforded in the physical world—including by removing archaic distinctions between email left unread or over a certain age."

John Podesta also said:

"Big data unquestionably increases the potential of government power to accrue un-checked."

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