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May 2, 2014

White House Panel Urging Big Data Use to Protect Privacy

This image was taken by Matt H. Wade

Big data is saving lives.

That was the theme of the report handed to U.S. President Barack Obama late Thursday — a report that also recommended new legislation to inhibit discrimination and safeguard civil rights.

The report, the result of a 90-day review requested by the president, was part and parcel of the assessment of the National Security Agency’s infamous surveillance programs.

Senior White House advisor John Podesta, who led the panel, said the president tasked the group with discovering how big data technology could be used to protect privacy and help the country in general.

“The big data revolution presents incredible opportunities in virtually every sector of the economy and every corner of society,” Podesta said in a blog post.

“Big data is saving lives. Infections are dangerous—even deadly—for many babies born prematurely. By collecting and analyzing millions of data points from a NICU, one study was able to identify factors, like slight increases in body temperature and heart rate, that serve as early warning signs an infection may be taking root—subtle changes that even the most experienced doctors wouldn’t have noticed on their own.”

The panel made six recommendations to Obama:

• Advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights

The panel is suggesting the Department of Commerce seek stakeholder and public comment on needed modifications to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which was first proposed by the president in 2012. The Department of Commerce would then draft legislative for submission to Congress.

• Pass National Data Breach Legislation

The panel is recommending Congress pass legislation that provides for a single national data breach standard using the Administration’s 2011 Cybersecurity legislative proposal as inspiration.

• Extend Privacy Protections to Non-U.S. Persons

The Office of Management and Budget, the panel suggested, should work with departments and agencies to apply the Privacy Act of 1974 to non-U.S. citizens when possible, or “to establish alternative privacy policies that apply appropriate and meaningful protections to personal information regardless of a person’s nationality.”

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

The panel also wants to put in place a system to ensure any educational data linked to individual students that is gathered in school is used only for educational purposes. Students, the group said, should be protected against their data being shared or used inappropriately.

• Expand Technical Expertise to Stop Discrimination

The federal government’s lead civil rights and consumer protection agencies “should expand their technical expertise to be able to identify practices and outcomes facilitated by big data analytics that have a discriminatory impact on protected classes, and develop a plan for investigating and resolving violations of law,” the group said.

Amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Congress, the group said, should amend the ECPA to ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is constant.

“We conclude that we must find a way to preserve our privacy values in both the domestic and international marketplace,” Podesta said.

“We urgently need to build capacity in the federal government to identify and prevent new modes of discrimination that could be enabled by big data. We must ensure that law enforcement agencies using big data technologies do so responsibly, and that our fundamental privacy rights remain protected.



Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.