White House Privacy Reports Challenge Privacy Bill of Rights

White House Privacy Reports Challenge Privacy Bill of Rights

Lenard Files Comments with NTIA on Privacy Policy and Big Data

Contact: Amy Smorodin
(202) 828-4405

August 5, 2014 – The recent White House big data reports are inconsistent with the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights proposed by the White House in 2012, states Technology Policy Institute President Thomas Lenard in comments filed with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The reports, by a group led by Counselor John Podesta (the Big Data Report) and a complementary report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST Report), suggest privacy policy should focus on specific harmful uses of information, as opposed to policies limiting collection and use as described in the Privacy Bill of Rights.

In his comments, Lenard notes that the proposed Privacy Bill of Rights is based on the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs), which promote notice and choice, access and security. “Both of the recent White House reports indicate that the focus on limiting data collection is increasingly irrelevant and, indeed, harmful in a big data world,” Lenard explains. “This is primarily because big data analysis typically involves uses of data that were not anticipated at the time the data was collected. It also frequently involves the combination of data from different sources.” In addition, “[p]rinciples of notice and choice become almost meaningless when data may be used in unpredictable ways.”

Lenard notes that, in contrast to the recommendations in the Privacy Bill of Rights, “the Big Data Report suggests examining ‘whether a greater focus on how data is used and reused would be a more productive basis for managing privacy rights in a big data environment.'” The PCAST privacy report posits that policies focusing on limiting data collection and use, “are unlikely to yield effective strategies for improving privacy. Such policies would be unlikely to be scalable over time, or to be enforceable by other than severe and economically damaging measures.” Instead, the report suggests that policies should focus “on the actual use of big data and less on its collection and analysis.”

“These reports can serve a very useful purpose if they refocus privacy discussions where they should be focused – on actual harms to individuals,” Lenard concludes.

The comments and related TPI paper “Big Data, Privacy and the Familiar Solutions” submitted with the comments are available on the TPI website.

The Technology Policy Institute

The Technology Policy Institute is a non-profit research and educational organization that focuses on the economics of innovation, technological change, and related regulation in the United States and around the world. More information is available at https://techpolicyinstitute.org/.

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