The review, led by President Barack Obama's senior counselor, John
Podesta, was sparked by the revelations last year of former spy
contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information about
how the National Spy Agency uses big data analytics methods for
Obama has moved to rein in some of the activity by U.S. intelligence
agencies. But he also asked Podesta to take a 90-day look at how the
private sector, medical researchers and other parts of government
are innovating with big data, and whether privacy is at risk.
"The challenges to our privacy do not come from government alone.
Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and
analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes," Obama said
when he announced Podesta's review in January.
Podesta and other senior officials have met with Internet companies,
data brokers and advertising agencies, academic researchers and
privacy and civil liberties groups privately and in three public
workshops to explore the opportunities and issues involving big
"It was a moment to step back and say, 'Does this change our basic
framework or our look at the way we're dealing with records and
privacy?'" Podesta said in an interview with the Associated Press
published on Saturday.
Earlier this month, at a workshop at the University of California,
Berkeley, Podesta said he believed updates were needed for the
Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a statute governing Internet
communications, which he helped draft as a legislative aide on
Capitol Hill in 1984.
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Podesta described the advances that big data has helped make in
climate science and medical treatment and research. But he also
pointed out that information shared on social networks about race,
religion, age and sexual orientation could be used for ill.
"It's easy to imagine how big data technology, if used to cross
legal lines we have been careful to set, could end up reinforcing
existing inequities in housing, credit, employment, health and
education," he said.
He described a program called "Street Bump" in Boston that detected
pot-holes using sensors in smartphones of citizens who had
downloaded an app. The program inadvertently directed repair crews
to wealthier neighborhoods, where people were more likely to carry
smartphones and download the app. The city later fixed the app.
"The lesson here is that we need to pay careful attention to what
unexpected outcomes the use of big data might lead to, and how to
remedy any unintended discrimination or inequality that may result,"
Podesta said at the workshop.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Dan Grebler)
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