- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2014

The staggering amount of data readily accessible in 2014 means the federal government must take specific steps to ensure personal privacy is protected and Americans aren’t discriminated against, a special White House panel recommended Thursday.

The “Big Data and Privacy Working Group,” appointed by President Obama in January, unveiled six specific steps Congress and the administration should take, including extending full U.S. privacy protections to non-citizens and ensuring that information collected on students is used only for educational purposes.

White House Counselor John Podesta and his colleagues said that today’s level of data is a two-sided coin that could lead to abuse, unless proper protections are put in place.

“We conclude that we must find a way to preserve our privacy values in both the domestic and international marketplace. We urgently need to build capacity in the federal government to identify and prevent new modes of discrimination that could be enabled by big data,” Mr. Podesta said in a blog post announcing the report.

“We must ensure that law enforcement agencies using big data technologies do so responsibly, and that our fundamental privacy rights remain protected … While big data presents new challenges, it also presents immense opportunities to improve lives. The United States is perhaps better suited to lead this conversation than any other nation on earth,” he wrote.

Other members of the review group included Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, White House Science Adviser John Holdren and other administration officials.

The panel was formed in the aftermath of Mr. Obama’s January speech on reforms to U.S. data-collection and surveillance efforts.

The group’s six specific recommendations are: Advance the stalled Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights; pass legislation establishing a national data breach standard; extend U.S. privacy protections to non-citizens; ensure data collected on students is used only for educational purposes and is not shared inappropriately; ensure data isn’t used to discriminate against Americans or violate their civil rights; and update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to fix “archaic” provisions.

But some groups fear the new recommendations may lead to new “burdensome new legal requirements” for private industry and said existing law addresses the White House’s concerns.

“The administration’s work to examine discrimination concerns is extremely important. It is our view tat current law works,” said Mark MacCarthy, vice president of public policy for The Software and Information Industry Association, a trade group for software and digital content industries.

“Vigilantly enforced consumer protection and anti-discrimination laws are strong and flexible enough to prevent unfair practices. Industry efforts are also safeguarding data privacy and preventing discriminatory practices. Burdensome new legal requirements would only impede data-driven innovation and hurt the ability of U.S. companies to create jobs and drive economic growth,” he said.



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