Last month, The Information Commissioners Office (the ICO) released a report entitled ‘Big data and data protection’ (the Report), which addresses the issues surrounding the big data debate and how businesses can ensure their big data practices are compliant with current data protection law. The Report defines big data as ‘high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making’.

Big data is increasingly being used by businesses in both the public and private sectors to process and analyse large amounts of data quickly and easily in a variety of ways. This can involve the processing of non-personal data like geospatial and climate data. However, where personal data is involved, businesses must comply with the UK Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA). Under the principles of the DPA, the analysis of personal data must be fair and lawful. In particular the “repurposing data” (essentially changing the purpose for which the data is analysed), is a significant point of debate with some stating this goes against data protection law. However, some argue that the data protection principles are not fit for the purposes of big data; the ICO does not accept this argument and emphasises that big data, it is not “a game played by different rules”.

The Report encourages companies to be honest with customers from an early stage about how their personal data will be used. It suggests that companies carry out a privacy impact assessment and shift the balance of power in favour of consumers by giving them more rights over their personal data.

Now more than ever the individual is more aware of its data and businesses must accept adequate responsibility for handling such data. The ICO suggests that when the proposed EU General Data Protection Regulation comes into force, the level of data protection should improve for individuals in the context of big data analytics. Nevertheless, businesses should ensure their current big data processing models are sufficiently transparent, especially regarding personal data and the repurposing of data.

The full ICO Report is available here.