White House Releases Report on Big Data and Privacy
May 1, 2014 - Posted by Patrick McNeil
Following a 90-day review of big data policies, the White House today released “Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values” – a move that was applauded by civil rights groups for its emphasis on critical civil rights concerns.
“Today’s report highlights the crucial importance of updating our civil rights, data, and privacy policies to unlock big data’s benefits and guard against its risks, said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “While big data is revolutionizing commerce and government for the better, it is also supercharging the potential for discrimination in employment, credit, insurance, and law enforcement.”
The report also comes after the release in February of a set of civil rights principles in the era of big data, a push by 14 civil rights groups to urge companies and the government to develop and use new technologies in ways that promote equal opportunity and equal justice.
Some relevant findings from the report include:
"The same algorithmic and data mining technologies that enable discrimination could also help groups enforce their rights by identifying and empirically confirming instances of discrimination and characterizing the harms they caused. Civil rights groups can use the new and powerful tools of big data in service of equal treatment for the communities they represent. Whether big data will build greater equality for all Americans or exacerbate existing inequalities depends entirely on how its technologies are applied in the years to come, what kinds of protections are present in the law, and how the law is enforced." (p. 59)
“The 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 of law." (p. 66)
“Today’s report is a welcome step forward in acknowledging the need for rules of the road for the public and private institutions whose decisions can ultimately protect or deny civil and human rights. It provides important next steps for the administration, Congress, and regulators to ensure that technology is used to enhance equal opportunity – not undermine it,” Henderson said. “The civil rights community stands ready to work with the White House, with Congress, and with policymakers and stakeholders to ensure that civil rights are protected in the era of big data.”