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Privacy & Data

CDT Files Comments in White House “Big Data” Review

Yesterday, CDT filed comments with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy as part of its big data review. As we previously noted, companies that collect data from consumers—for any reason, “big data” analytics or otherwise—must create robust programs to protect the data. Our comments focus on the continued value of the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs) as the best available framework for those programs; the possibility of technical measures, such as de-identification, to safeguard privacy; and the need for immediate reform of current laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Big data collection has the potential to create exciting new products and solutions in areas as disparate as traffic congestion, online educational services, and in home energy use. But those products are dependent on collecting vast amounts of consumer data—much of it quite sensitive, such as location information or health data—that implicate individual privacy interests. Creating limitations on collection of data, ensuring that consumers can actually consent to big data practices, and creating robust security systems are some of the suggestions we make in our comments. We hope that companies use the FIPPs as an organizing framework to promote consumer privacy in an age of big data innovation.

Of course, companies are not the only entities that collect data and use it for purposes that individuals may not know much about. Government agencies and law enforcement have increasingly used electronic data, and CDT has long called for reform on these issues. As citizens increasingly use electronic services to store information, there need to be protections against government access of that data. Reforming ECPA to require a warrant for access to that information, without carve-outs or exceptions for civil agencies, would be an important step to creating those protections.

CDT will continue to be engaged on questions of big data and the use of technology in daily life, and we look forward to the forthcoming White House report. As consumers continue to use online services, mobile devices, and networked technologies to make their lives easier, companies and government agencies need to ensure that personal data is securely and effectively protected.