Comments for the White House "Big Data Review"


This afternoon, FPF submitted comments to help inform the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s “Big Data Review.” Announced in January, the White House Big Data Review has been a helpful exercise in scoping out how big data is changing our society.  Through public workshops at MIT, NYU, and Berkeley, the review has solicited thought leadership from a wide array of academics and researchers. Moving forward, FPF believes there is much that can be done to promote innovation in a way that advances privacy.

We advanced the following recommendations for the OSTP Big Data Review report:

1)      Embrace a flexible application of Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs). Traditional FIPPs have guided privacy policy nationally and around the globe for more than 40 years, and the White House Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is the most recent effort to carry these principles forward into a world of big data. FPF supports the continued reliance on the FIPPs and believes they remain flexible enough to address many of the challenges posed by big data when applied in a practical, use-based manner. Our Comments recommend a nuanced approach to their applicability that accounts for modern day technical realities.

2)      Promote the benefits of big data in society. Researchers, academics, and industry have demonstrated how big data can be useful in driving economic growth, advancing public safety and health, and improving our schools. Yet, privacy advocates and the public appear skeptical of these benefits in the face of certain outlier uses. More work is needed to understand the ways big data is already improving society and making businesses more efficient and innovative. This report should highlight the importance of big data’s benefits and identify additional opportunities to promote positive uses of big data.

3)      Support efforts to advance practical de-identification, including policy and technological solutions. While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has acknowledged that data that is effectively de-identified poses no significant privacy risk, there remains considerable debate over what effective de-identification requires. FPF believes that technical anonymization measures are only one component of effective deidentification. Instead, a broader understanding that takes into account how administrative and legal safeguards, as well as whether data is public or non-public, should inform conversations about effective de-identification procedures.

4)      Encourage additional work to frame context and promote enhanced transparency. The context in which data is collected and used is an important part of understanding individuals’ expectations, and context is a key principle in both the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and the FTC Privacy Framework. Respect for context is an increasingly important privacy principle, yet more work by academics, industry, and policymakers is needed about how to properly frame and define this principle. The Department of Commerce-led Internet Policy Task Force (IPTF) should continue its work convening stakeholders and hold programs that could help frame context in an age of big data. At the same time, another important tool that can be used to promote public trust in big data is enhanced transparency efforts. In particular, FPF has called for more transparency surrounding high-level decisional criteria that organizations may use to make decisions about individuals.

5)      Encourage efforts to promote accountability by organizations working with big data. Data privacy frameworks increasingly rely on organizational accountability to ensure responsible data stewardship. In the context of big data, FPF supports the further development of the concept of internal review boards that could help companies weigh the benefits and risks of data uses. In conjunction with the evolving role of the privacy professional, accountability measures can be put in place to ensure big data projects take privacy considerations into account.

6)      Promote government leadership on big data through its own procedures and practices. The federal government is one of the largest producers and users of data, and, as a result, the government may inform industry practice and help demonstrate the value of data through its own uses of big data across and among agencies. The Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) Council is particularly well-positioned to ensure the federal government can maximize the potential of big data with an eye toward privacy protection.

7)      Promote global efforts to facilitate interoperability. Recent privacy developments in the Asia Pacific and the European Union have given new life to constructive collaboration on the cross jurisdictional issues presented by big data. FPF urges government to actively promote and maintain existing frameworks to facilitate interoperability, including the US-EU Safe Harbor and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation’s (APEC) Cross Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) System

Big data presents many benefits and potential risks. A thoughtful, balanced analysis of the value choices now at hand is essential. The Administration’s efforts to convene thought leaders have produced many fruitful conversations, and more are needed. At the same time, it will be essential that the Administration provide transparency and a clear plan of action to all stakeholders moving forward.These broad next steps are suggested as a helpful beginning to the work that needs to be done.

Big data offers the United States a great opportunity to provide global leadership on promoting innovation – and protecting privacy. It also presents a challenge, but we have the privacy principles and frameworks needed to thoughtfully address that task.