Findings of the Big Data and Privacy Working Group
US White House senior counselor John Podesta recently summarized an extensive review of big data and privacy that he led. Over 90 days, he met with academic researchers, privacy advocates, regulators, technology industry representatives, advertisers, and civil rights groups. The findings were presented on 1 May 2014 to the President and summarized in Mr Podesta’s report but the full 79-page report is also available. In the report, geospatial data is recognized as an important contributor to big data but does not receive special attention over other types of data. Nevertheless, the report provides a useful overview of the current opportunities of big data and the challenges it poses to privacy.
After discussing some of the technological trends making big data possible, the report then details the opportunities it presents: Saving lives (through monitoring infections in newborns), making the economy work better (through sensors in jet engines, monitoring of peak electrical demands), and making government work better (by being able to predict reimbursement fraud in insurance, for example). Next, the report raises some of the serious concerns that accompany big data, such as how to protect our privacy and how to make sure that it does not enable civil rights protections to be circumvented.
Recommendations from the report include advancing the proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, passing National Data Breach legislation, extending privacy protections to non-US persons, ensuring data collected on students in school is used for educational purposes, expanding technical expertise to stop discrimination, and amending the electronic communications privacy act. In short, the report recognizes the immense benefit that big data brings, but also the challenges, and makes specific recommendations for governments to deal with those challenges.