Don't Let Privacy Fears Stifle Big Data, SIIA Urges

Software industry trade group urges policymakers to resist rules and regulations that curb data collection and analysis.
New York's 32-Story Data 'Fortress'
New York's 32-Story Data 'Fortress'
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Whether or not you care for the term "big data" -- some critics see it as thinly veiled marketing hype -- there's little doubt that the amount of information generated by digital devices is growing dramatically. And as businesses and governments collect more data about us,

The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) wants policymakers to avoid "broad policies" that limit the use of digital information. While acknowledging the need to address privacy concerns, the software trade group says that stringent regulations in this area might slow the growth of the "nascent technological and economic revolution" known as big data, according to a recent SIIA white paper.

The SIIA argues that big data is too important to the global economy to do otherwise. It points to recent Gartner estimates that predict big data-related research will spur $34 billion in IT spending this year. Looking forward, "data-driven innovation," or DDI, will help create 4.4 million IT jobs globally by 2015, including 1.9 million in the United States, Gartner says.

"Data collection and use is at crossroads, and decisions by policymakers could have an enormous impact on American innovation, jobs and economic growth," said SIIA president Ken Wasch in a statement. Lawmakers must address privacy concerns regarding the storage and use of data, Wasch concedes, but he adds that they should do so "without strict regulation that stifles economic opportunity."

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The SIIA white paper outlines several policy recommendations that it claims will help DDI establish a foothold in the global market. For instance, rather than implementing more stringent privacy rules to protect consumers, it calls for the use of de-identification, where details that would identify the source of the data are removed from personally identifiable information. And rather than mandating de-identification, the SIIA wants policymakers to "encourage" the practice.

The SIIA also argues that student privacy regulations shouldn't hinder the use of big data tools in education. Technology-based educational products and services, some of which analyze data to develop customized learning plans for students, can help improve teaching methods and save money. "Policies should be careful to balance the need to adequately protect children’s privacy without undermining the ability of these providers to leverage DDI," the white paper says.

Governments should use big data innovations to increase efficiency and reduce waste, including as data analytics to make key decisions, the SIIA says. The trade association also encourages data science research and development, as well as training of data scientists, which are in high demand in the public and private sectors.

Other key recommendations include the following: -Policymakers should recognize that "socially acceptable norms of privacy" are changing with technology. These changes should influence policy decisions pertaining to DDI.

-The principle of data minimization -- the amount of personal data held by an organization must not exceed what's needed for a particular purpose -- should not be a "rigid construct" set in stone, but rather one that's reevaluated as DDI evolves.

-The development of open standards should be left to industry-led standards development organizations, not governments.

-Uniform rules should not apply broadly to the collection of personal information and the role of user consent.

-Governments should encourage the free flow of data by supporting data policy frameworks that work across multiple jurisdictions.

It's clear that the SIIA's recommendations are designed to limit government intervention in the nascent big data industry. What do you think? In terms of personal privacy protections, is less government involvement good or bad?

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