Both privacy advocates and tech groups found something to like
within the 90-day "Big Data" review, led by John Podesta, a top
adviser to President Barack Obama. (Big Data report:
The review consulted internet companies such as Google Inc and
Facebook Inc, data miners like Acxiom Corp, as well as academics,
advertising agencies, legal experts, civil rights groups and
The White House threw its support behind a legislative update to a
privacy law for email, the Electronic Privacy Communications Act.
The bill, which protects email and other data stored in the cloud,
has stalled in Congress, but is backed by privacy groups and the
The review also recommended legislation to create a national
standard for telling consumers when their data has been hacked to
improve upon a patchwork of state laws for data breaches, such as
the December breach at retailer Target Corp.
The Commerce Department also said it would look at how to codify a
"Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" that calls for consumers to have
more say in how their data is used, first drafted by White House in
The emphasis on data protections pleased Marc Rotenberg, executive
director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"We see 'Big Data' as one of the great privacy challenges facing the
country," said Rotenberg, who teaches information privacy law at
Georgetown University Law Center.
"The question now is what steps will be taken to implement the
recommendations," he said in an interview.
Congress is unlikely to advance legislation ahead of midterm
elections in November, and timelines for other ideas in the report
BIG DATA WHITE HOUSE
Obama's campaign team made deft use of big data analytics to target
supporters during his election campaigns, and his administration has
championed using data to advance its health, education and climate
But he asked for the review of "Big Data" after a backlash at home
and abroad following leaks by former National Security Agency
contractor Edward Snowden about the government's data collection
The review gave a nod to concerns raised by European allies shocked
by the extent of U.S. surveillance on foreigners revealed by
Snowden, saying government agencies should look at how to apply the
Privacy Act of 1974 to non-U.S. persons.
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But otherwise, the Podesta report sidestepped national security uses
of big data, instead seeking to put the debate over privacy in a
"We were disappointed by the actual scoping of the report to largely
avoid the especially hard issues around NSA surveillance and more
generally intelligence community use of big data techniques," said
Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier
The review highlighted the social good that data collection and
analysis can do in areas such as medical research, but also pointed
out that the same techniques could be used to discriminate against
consumers for housing or jobs.
"Big Data raises serious questions about how we protect our privacy
and other important values in a world where data collection is
increasingly ubiquitous and where analysis is conducted at speeds
approaching real time," Podesta told reporters.
The review raised the specter of algorithms crunching data to
"digitally redline" people based on race or where they live, and
recommended that the government hire more people who know how to use
technology to spot and investigate violations.
But some industry groups said that finding may raise unwarranted
fears about big data techniques without providing any evidence that
they have been used to discriminate against people for housing, jobs
or credit. They said the review failed to highlight the privacy
protections already in place.
"It's less finding a smoking gun, and it's more saying, 'Let's go
look for one,'" said Mark MacCarthy, head of public policy for the
Software and Information Industry Association, a trade group.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Alexei
Orestovic in San Francisco; editing by Sandra Maler and Lisa
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