White House Big Data Report Earns Praise, Skepticism
Tech experts say the administration is wise to call for statutory protections for data in the cloud. But some advocacy groups say overregulation will have a chilling effect on innovation.
when personal information was stored on paper. Since email, text messaging, and other private digital communications have replaced paper as the principal means of personal correspondence, and the cloud is increasingly used to store Americans' files, digital communications and the cloud require similar legislative protections.
The Commerce Department should take appropriate consultative steps to seek stakeholder and public comment on big data developments and how they affect the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, the report states. Once that is done, the administration should draft a legislative proposal that the president can submit to Congress.
To help ensure privacy, the data services industry should bring greater transparency to its work, the report says. To achieve this goal, the data services industry should build a common website or online portal that lists companies and their data practices, and it should provide ways for consumers to control how their information is used or collected, including opting out of certain marketing uses.
The report also says that Congress should pass legislation that establishes a single national data breach standard similar to the administration's May 2011 cybersecurity legislative proposal.
Daniel Castro, director of the Center for Data Innovation, an affiliate of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a non-partisan think tank, said in a press release that the report calls attention to a number of important policies that can strengthen data-driven innovation, such as embracing government data as a public resource, promoting the use of data in fields such as education and healthcare, and investing in more research for privacy-enhancing technologies.
But it misses the mark in some respects, according to Castro. "The report disproportionately focuses on fears that big data might harm consumers by violating their privacy, threatening their civil liberties, and hurting their pocketbooks," he said. "For example, the report renews a call to support the administration's proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, an attempt initiated in 2012 to impose unnecessary restrictions on the collection and use of data by the private sector."
The US Chamber of Commerce used the report's release as an opportunity to list the myriad benefits of big data, including its ability to create jobs, spur innovations, and expand entrepreneurial opportunities in each and every market. But the chamber believes that overregulation is not a good idea for big data.
"As the government continues to examine the collection and use of data, policymakers should restrain from acting unless there are specific, identified harms that cannot be addressed by the myriad of existing laws and regulations governing the use of information collected about consumers," David Chavern, president of the US Chamber of Commerce's Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation, said in a press release.
The Obama administration should make an effort to ensure that policymakers do not confuse US national security-related privacy issues with commercial privacy practices, Chavern said.
For his part, Castro said the report failed to debunk popular myths about big data, such as "once data is collected, it can be very difficult to keep anonymous" or that "re-identification is becoming more powerful than de-identification." Though there have been some high-profile examples of data re-identification, he said, techniques exist to effectively de-identify data.
"The Administration should be commended for recognizing opportunities to advance data-driven innovation, but the report is a reminder that we have a long way to go before Washington gets over its fear of big data," Castro said.
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William Welsh is a contributing writer to InformationWeek Government. He has covered the government IT market since 2000 for publications such as Washington Technology and Defense Systems. View Full Bio
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