Jun 13 2014

Maintaining Privacy in the Big Data Era

The government wants your input on how the two can coexist.

The White House wants to know how its voluntary code of conduct for protecting consumers could help solve the nation’s Big Data privacy issues.

President Barack Obama released the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in February 2012, calling it “a blueprint for privacy in the information age.” The framework offers guidance on what rights consumers should have and what they should expect from those who handle their personal information. One of those rights is individual control, or a person’s right to exercise control over what data companies collect from them and how they use it.

The president vowed to work with Congress to make the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights law. Nearly two years have passed, and that hasn’t happened. But public outcry for greater protections of personal data is putting pressure on the administration to make privacy legislation a top priority.

More than 24,000 individuals responded to a White House survey this year about big data and privacy. Here are their concerns:

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) put out a request for public comment this month to find out how potential legislation — with regard to consumer privacy — could support the innovations and address the risks of Big Data.

NTIA also asked if any parts of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights should be clarified or modified to accommodate the benefits of Big Data. By raising these questions, NTIA at least puts the framework back into the spotlight for discussion. Public comments are due by Aug. 5.

In the context of NTIA’s work, Big Data is defined as “datasets so large, diverse and/or complex that conventional technologies cannot adequately capture, store or analyze them.”

The agency’s public outreach is in response to a White House Big Data report released in May. The report culminates the administration’s 90-day review of Big Data and includes recommendations for reaping the benefits of Big Data while preserving privacy and civil liberties. One recommendation: Extend privacy protections to non-U.S. persons where practicable.

The report also notes that, “if unchecked, Big Data could be a tool that substantially expands government power over citizens. At the same time, Big Data can also be used to enhance accountability and to engineer systems that are inherently more respectful of privacy and civil rights.”

Read the White House report to learn how agencies are using Big Data and what challenges they face.

<p>Alexander Bedrin/ThinkStock</p>