White House Issues Report on Big Data, Privacy

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In early 2014, following months of revelations about the degree of NSA spying on Americans’ electronic communications, President Obama ordered a government review of how “Big Data” will affect how people live and work.

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Roughly a year later, a report has arrived (PDF), with recommendations for preserving Americans’ online privacy protections. According to the report’s authors, “technology alone cannot protect privacy absent strong social norms and a responsive policy and legal framework.”

The report offers six “key recommendations”:

  • Amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to further protect emails and other e-communications.
  • Use data analytics to further boost civil rights and curb discrimination.
  • Make sure students’ data isn’t used or shared inappropriately.
  • Emphasize privacy in how the federal government protects the e-privacy of non-U.S. citizens.
  • Pass “national data breach legislation.”
  • Advance a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.”

While the report claims that the federal government has made significant progress on many of these initiatives, e-privacy remains a densely tangled thicket of issues and competing interests. The analytics tools used for security and commerce will only become more sophisticated as time goes by—for example, law enforcement’s use of predictive analytics to detect crime patterns. Can privacy law evolve rapidly enough to keep up?

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