Almost three weeks into the Administration’s comprehensive review of privacy issues relating to big data, a coalition of twenty-five consumer groups, privacy advocates, and civil liberties organizations are pushing the White House to open up the process to public participation.
In a letter released this week, the coalition asked the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is assisting in the review led by John Podesta, to solicit public comment on a range of issues relating to big data. On Monday, the coalition also met with Podesta, a counselor to President Barack Obama, according to news reports. In its letter, the coalition urged the office to consider questions including:
(1) What potential harms arise from big data collection and how are these risks currently addressed?
(2) What are the legal frameworks currently governing big data, and are they adequate?
(3) How could companies and government agencies be more transparent in the use of big data, for example, by publishing algorithms?
(4) What technical measures could promote the benefits of big data while minimizing the privacy risks?
(5) What experience have other countries had trying to address the challenges of big data?
(6) What future trends concerning big data could inform the current debate?
The debate over big data has increased in recent months, as the Administration connected the issue to the ongoing discussions on reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other surveillance authorities. Obama announced the big data project in his January 17 speech, which began by outlining changes to programs including the NSA’s telephone metadata program and ended with the big data announcement. The comprehensive review will “look at how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors, whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data, and how we can continue to promote the free flow of information in ways that are consistent with both privacy and security,” Obama said.
At the end of the 90-day review, Podesta’s group expects to deliver a report to the President that “anticipates future technological trends and frames the key questions” about the collection, availability, and use of big data,” Podesta wrote in a blog post a week after Obama’s speech.
As part of the review, The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology will conduct a study “to explore in-depth the technological dimensions of the intersection of big data and privacy,” Podesta wrote. The working group, which will consult with industry, civil liberties groups, government officials, and others, expects to address broader questions as well.