A White House working group on data and privacy recommended last week passage of a federal data breach notification standard—one of several recommendations included in a report following a 90-day review of big data and privacy.
The working group was tasked by President Obama in January with exploring how big data technologies impact society, government and the economy, as well as their implications for personal privacy.
According to the group’s findings, big data presents “incredible opportunities” in nearly all sectors of the economy and has numerous benefits to society.
The group—led by John Podesta, a White House counselor—voiced concerns, however, over how to protect personal privacy in an era where data collection “is increasingly ubiquitous and where analysis is conducted at speeds approaching real time.”
“In particular, our review raised the question of whether the ‘notice and consent’ framework, in which a user grants permission for a service to collect and use information about them, still allows us to meaningfully control our privacy as data about us is increasingly used and reused in ways that could not have been anticipated when it was collected,” Podesta said in a blog post. “One significant finding of our review was the potential for big data analytics to lead to discriminatory outcomes and to circumvent longstanding civil rights protections in housing, employment, credit, and the consumer marketplace.”
The group made six policy recommendations to the president: ensure data collected on students is used for educational purposes; expand technical expertise to end discrimination; advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights; amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act; and pass national data breach notification standards.
Podesta said the “patchwork” of state laws requiring notification for data breaches should be shored up with the passage of a single national data breach standard similar to a 2011 proposal from the White House.
“Big data technologies make it possible to store significantly more data, and further derive intimate insights into a person’s character, habits, preferences, and activities,” Podesta said. “That makes the potential impacts of data breaches at businesses or other organizations even more serious.”
The Electronic Transactions Association, an international trade group which represents more than 500 firms worldwide that offer electronic transaction processing products and services, expressed support for the findings of the White House report.
“Regulations regarding consumer notification of breach are ripe for reform, as the White House report suggests,” ETA CEO Jason Oxman said. “A uniform national standard would protect consumers by providing reasonable and effective notification requirements. Consumers and businesses would have a common and consistent expectation of breach procedure, and company time and resources could be devoted to innovative security solutions to protect against new threats.”