White House report on big data: Realizing the promise, addressing the challenge

By Paula J. Bruening, Senior Counsel, Global Privacy Policy

Intel congratulates the Obama Administration on its release of “Big Data:  Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values.”  The report is the result of a 90 day review of big data technologies; the transformative opportunities they afford government, commerce and society; and the questions they may raise about fundamental American values and existing legal frameworks. We are pleased that the report reflects the Administration’s commitment to support the digital economy and the free flow of data, and its recognition that data holds the power to fuel productivity, encourage economic growth, and address difficult social issues. The report also highlights the view that big data can also be used in ways that have negative consequences, or that can have discriminatory effects even when they are not intended.

The report highlighted two areas in which big data will play a critical role that are of particular importance to Intel.  First, big data enables the cyber security protections for systems that support essential functions – power grids, financial transactions, and health care, to name only a few.  This security enhances privacy as well, by providing safeguards against the loss, inappropriate sharing, or compromise of an individual’s data.  Second, we’ve yet to even envision the transformation big data will power in education.  By getting the right resources to the right students at the right time across their academic career, big data can help students succeed in ways that are personally satisfying and that benefit society and the future.

Here are Intel’s initial thoughts on the report’s primary recommendations:

  •  Advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.  We endorse the report’s recommendation that the Department of Commerce undertake a consultative process on how big data affects the provisions of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and legislation that would implement it.  Intel has long believed that baseline US federal privacy legislation would benefit business, consumers and the digital marketplace.  It is critical that any legislation take into account the realities of analytic processing of big data.  While notice and consent continue to be fundamental, further work is needed to understand how use restrictions and accountability requirements can relieve individuals of unreasonable burdens.
  • Pass National Data Breach Legislation. We agree that Congress should pass legislation that establishes a single national data breach standard.  Such a provision would provide consistency and predictability for consumers and businesses, and streamline requirements for companies when breaches occur.
  • Extend Privacy Protections to non-U.S. Persons.  We believe that the recommendation that the Privacy Act of 1974 be applied to non-US persons where practicable, or that alternative policies be established that provide protections to personal information regardless of an individual’s nationality, is an important one.  Extending such protections beyond national boundaries is a prerequisite to facilitating the global flows that fuel big data, innovation and growth.
  • Ensure Data Collected on Students in School is Used for Educational Purposes Big data promises to transform education for students throughout their academic career.  Because data about students and their successes and challenges in school is often very sensitive, putting in place the appropriate safeguards will be fundamental to establishing the trust necessary to reap benefits in this area.
  • Expand Technical Expertise to Stop Discrimination. The report also urges the federal government’s lead civil rights and consumer protection agencies to expand their expertise to be able to address big data analytic outcomes that have a discriminatory impact.  Understanding how data and algorithms work will be important to avoid decisions that discriminate – even when that discrimination is inadvertent.
  •  Amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.  We commend the report’s authors for acknowledging that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) has not kept pace with the way individuals use technology today, including cloud services, and as a result inadequately protects individuals’ privacy interests in stored electronic communications.  Intel supports the policy recommendation that “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 e-mail left unread or over a certain age.”

While the report includes several recommendations, we are encouraged that it acknowledges that the discussion about how to realize the potential of big data and mitigate potential harms is in its early stages.  The work we do to attain the dual goals of protecting privacy and realizing the benefits that flow from the use of data will be an investment worth making.  Pursuing the ideas and issues contained in the report will be essential to the effort.

As Intel continues its effort to “Rethink Privacy,” it is considering how long-trusted privacy protections can be implemented to address concerns about big data.  We look forward to working with companies, advocates and governments to craft effective solutions.  Big data has the potential to transform every aspect of personal and public life – protecting our values is fundamental to our ability to realize its promise.

How are you rethinking privacy in the world of big data?

 

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