CCIA’s Response to Big Data Review

BY Heather Greenfield
May 1, 2014

Washington – The White House released the results of the Big Data review, which the president received today.  The review consisted of two reports, one focused on policy, which was coordinated by John Podesta, Counselor to the President.  The other, which was prepared by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), focused on the technical aspects of data collection and analysis.

The following quote can be attributed to Ed Black, President & CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA):

“Data is a key input into the modern economy that can improve both economic productivity and the quality of individual lives.  However, like any technology or tool, it also can be misused. Therefore, it’s vitally important that the debate around the collection and use of data be substantive and thoughtful, not overly polemical or political.

“A nuanced debate about the costs and benefits of big data is necessary. It is easy to focus only on negative anecdotes and one-off horror stories, even while the positive benefits of better data collection and analysis are so pervasive that they often escape news coverage and do not feature prominently in political rhetoric. We are glad that the report acknowledges the many benefits of big data, as well as policy challenges.

“We are glad that the report acknowledges that non-U.S. Internet users need baseline privacy protections as well.  If the U.S. hopes to remain a global Internet leader, the international users of U.S. companies’ websites and online services must have assurances that their personal data is secure.

“It is important that future discussions in the commercial privacy arena focus on identifying and curtailing harmful uses of data, not on a widespread rebuke of the collection or analysis of economically useful data itself.  The report prepared by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) makes this clear.

“Although I welcome the government’s review of this important policy area, it would be a grave error if it is used to attempt to distract attention away from the need for major reform of government surveillance practices that nobody gets to opt out of.  In the run up to the report, the administration continually intertwined the commercial privacy debate with the government surveillance debate.  Frankly, channeling public outrage over NSA overreach into the debate around commercial privacy regulation is irresponsible.  We would have hoped executive branch officials would be trying to regain some of the credibility and trust they have lost in the last year, and not resort to disingenuous efforts to distract and muddle the issues for the public. Politicizing the commercial privacy debate only makes it less likely that policymakers will create smart commercial privacy rules.

“If lawmakers are serious about protecting privacy, there is action they can take right now.  First, Congress should update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), as the report recommends, so that the standard of protection for online content, such as e-mail in the cloud, is consistent with that afforded in the physical world.  ECPA reform is ready for action now: bicameral, bipartisan pro-privacy legislation with 208 cosponsors in the House.  The House should act expeditiously to update ECPA in a straightforward way in order for privacy law to comport with the realities of 21st century communication.

“Finally, reforming government surveillance practices is essential to restore trust in the sanctity of Internet communications.  Congress has already had lengthy debate on both ECPA and reforming government surveillance and the public is clamoring for action.”

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