(Adds details from report, reaction from groups)
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON May 1 The White House on Thursday
suggested updates to laws and other measures to enhance privacy
and prevent discrimination based on the data trail left by
consumers on their phones and computers that companies and
researchers collect and analyze.
Both privacy advocates and tech groups found something to
like within the 90-day "Big Data" review, led by John Podesta, a
top advisor to President Barack Obama. (Big Data report: r.reuters.com/kah98v)
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 intelligence agencies.
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 tech sector.
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 2012.
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 were unclear.
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 agendas.
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
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.
But otherwise, the Podesta report sidestepped national
security uses of big data, instead seeking to put the debate
over privacy in a broader context.
"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 Foundation.
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
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
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Alexei
Orestovic in San Francisco; Editing by Sandra Maler and Lisa