WPF Comments about Privacy and Big Data: Ethical Framework and Rights Essential

The World Privacy Forum filed comments with the U.S. Department of Commerce in response to its Request for Comments about big data, privacy, and the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

In weighing the benefits of Big Data – and we acknowledge that there are benefits – we must not overweight the benefit side of the scale with indistinct promises of infinite gains without cost or compromise. We recognize that there are many uses of data, big, medium, or otherwise, that do not affect privacy rights and interests and that may result in benefits to science, medicine, or other endeavors. We also recognize that there are privacy issues that must be addressed in the uses of Big Data.

We were gratified to see that the White House Big Data report recognized that Big Data “raises considerable questions about how our framework for privacy protection applies in a big data ecosystem” and has the potential to “eclipse longstanding civil rights protections in how personal information is used in housing, credit, employment, health, education, and the marketplace.” This is, of course, among our concerns as well, and our comments to the Department focused on understanding big data’s benefits while drawing attention to where there are significant privacy risks that need to be addressed.

WPF’s comments focused on several areas, including:

  • The need for ethical guidelines in the area of human subjects research, including express and voluntary consent to be included in any human subject research study, online or offline.
  • The need for correcting discrimination, overt or inadvertent, as a result of either discriminatory factors used to compile data or the use of flawed algorithms, or a combination of elements.
  • The need for regulating data brokers, specifically, implementing the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and mandating a national data broker opt-out requirement and national opt-out standards for data brokers to comply with.
  • The need for addressing the problems associated with re-identification of individuals in previously “aggregate” data.
  • The need for correcting and stregthening key areas of the existing Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,

Read the Comments (PDF, 28 pages)