On Thursday, May 1, 2014, the White House issued a report outlining initiatives to supposedly better protect privacy in light of the growing realm of big data, the term used to describe a collection of large and complex data sets.  The report, titled “Big Data and Privacy: A Technological Perspective,” was presented to the President by an advisor, John Podesta, and lists five specific policy recommendations:

  1. Policy attention should focus more on the actual uses of big data and less on its collection and analysis;
  2. Policy and regulation should focus on the purpose for which big data is used and not the technology specifically (so as to avoid becoming immediately outdated);
  3. The White House should strengthen U.S. research in privacy-related technologies and in the relevant areas of social science that inform successful application of those technologies;
  4. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should encourage increased education and training opportunities concerning privacy protection; and
  5. The United States should take the lead globally by adopting policies that stimulate the use of practical privacy-protecting technologies that exist today.

One focus of the report was the concern that big data could be used in a discriminatory manner.  As Podesta wrote, “[t]he federal government’s lead civil rights and consumer protection agencies should expand their technical expertise to be able to identify practices and outcomes facilitated by big data analytics that have a discriminatory impact on protected classes, and develop a plan for investigating and resolving violations.”

Industries engaging in collection and use of big data should be wary of almost certain regulation of the industry as the government addresses the existing and potential purposes and uses of big data.