White House Seeks Feedback on Big Data and Privacy

By Joseph Marks

March 6, 2014

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy is seeking public feedback on how the government can best protect citizen privacy as it and the private sector increasingly turn to big data analysis.

The request for information posted on Thursday is part of a larger investigation of big data and privacy being led by White House Counselor John Podesta.

Big data refers to data from sensors, video, Web, social media and other content that doesn’t fit neatly into a spreadsheet. A number of tools have been devised in recent years to draw insights from this “unstructured data,” that analysts say could transform how the government and the private sector gather information and manage their operations.

Big data also has the power to pare back citizens’ privacy, however, as more information about their purchases, medical care, Web searches and social media posts becomes fodder for government and industry data analysts.

The RFI includes five questions for public input:

  1. What are the public policy implications of the collection, storage, analysis, and use of big data? For example, do the current U.S. policy framework and privacy proposals for protecting consumer privacy and government use of data adequately address issues raised by big data analytics?
  2. What types of uses of big data could measurably improve outcomes or productivity with further government action, funding, or research? What types of uses of big data raise the most public policy concerns? Are there specific sectors or types of uses that should receive more government and/or public attention?
  3. What technological trends or key technologies will affect the collection, storage, analysis and use of big data? Are there particularly promising technologies or new practices for safeguarding privacy while enabling effective uses of big data?
  4. How should the policy frameworks or regulations for handling big data differ between the government and the private sector? Please be specific as to the type of entity and type of use (e.g., law enforcement, government services, commercial, academic research, etc.).
  5. What issues are raised by the use of big data across jurisdictions, such as the adequacy of current international laws, regulations, or norms?

The Office of Science and Technology Policy co-hosted an event focused on big data and privacy with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on March 3. The office will host another event on March 17 at New York University titled The Social, Cultural, & Ethical Dimensions of Big Data, which will be streamed here

(Image via Genialbaron/Shutterstock.com)

By Joseph Marks

March 6, 2014