The White House released its report on “big data” today, making several policy recommendations for the use of personal data in the commercial, educational and health care sectors. The report was spurred at the request of President Obama back in January 2014, when he requested a 90-day study to “examine how big data will transform the way we live and work and alter the relationships between government, citizens, businesses and consumers.” White House Counselor John Podesta led the study, along with John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Jeffrey Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
The report focuses on how the public and private sectors can maximize the benefits of big data while minimizing its risks. The report loosely defines “big data” as “large, diverse, complex, longitudinal and/or distributed datasets generated from instruments, sensors, Internet transactions, email, video, click streams and/or all other digital sources available today and in the future.” After discussing issues surrounding collection and use of data in both the public and private sectors, the report discusses key questions for the development of a policy framework for big data:
1. How government can harness big data for the public good while guarding against unacceptable uses against citizens;
2. The extent to which big data alters the consumer landscape in ways that implicate core values;
3. How to protect citizens from new forms of discrimination that may be enabled by big data technologies; and
4. How big data affects the core tenet of modern privacy protection, the notice and consent framework that has been in wide use since the 1970s.
In its conclusion, the report makes several key policy recommendations, including advancing a consumer privacy bill of rights, passing national data breach and notification legislation, ensuring that student data is only used for educational purposes and amending the Electronic Communication Privacy Act so as to “ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is consistent with that afforded in the physical world.”