Everyone’s talking about big data. Why? Well, it’s big. Its potential benefit and impending challenge to individual privacy and discrimination are tremendous. Last week, to analyze the technological dimension of big data and its significance for the future of privacy, the White House released a report entitled “Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values.” President Obama tasked his  Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) with creating this report in January. The report explores the changing nature of privacy, as computing technologies such as cloud computing have advanced. The report also makes several policy recommendations for prompt administrative and legislative attention and review, including to:

  • Advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. PCAST urges the Commerce Department to seek stakeholder and public comment on big data developments and how they impact the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The report instructs Commerce to create draft legislative text for consideration by stakeholders and submission to the President.        
  • Pass National Data Breach Legislation. In consideration of the recent breaches of consumer data and information, PCAST urges Congress to pass legislation that sets a single national data breach standard similar to President Obama’s May 2011 Cybersecurity legislative proposal.
  • Extend the Privacy Act of 1974  to non-U.S. Persons. PCAST recommends that agencies develop alternative privacy policies that apply meaningful protections to the personal information of non-U.S. persons.
  • Amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).  PCAST calls Congress to action to update the ECPA, noting that some of its principals and bright line rules for its application have become outdated and do not reflect how technology is used today. The report suggests that Congress remove archaic distinctions between email left unread or over a certain age. It seems this may be underway, with several amending bills, including the Leahy-Lee Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act, proposed last year.  

Primarily, the report recommends that any new policies focus on how the data are used, rather than the technical aspects of its collection and analysis, as that will continue to evolve. This report should signal to companies that the federal government will soon be making a big impact in big data. To access the report, click here.