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U.S.' White House calls for big data and cloud privacy overhaul

Kenneth Corbin | May 5, 2014
Leading tech groups welcome call for data breach law and outdated cloud privacy statute, but warn against overreaching consumer privacy legislation.

That set off alarms in some corners of the industry. The trade group TechAmerica said it was "somewhat confused" about the report's focus on "hypothetical concerns about the use of data." SIIA's MacCarthy cautioned that "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."

Big Data Changes Everything

But the call for Congress to codify the consumer bill of rights comes as an acknowledgement on the part of the administration that existing privacy law has fallen out of step with the ways that businesses are collecting, analyzing and repackaging information about consumers.

"It's undeniable that big data challenges several of the key assumptions that underpin current privacy frameworks," Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told reporters.

"It's very clear that data can improve our lives and create economic opportunity," Pritzker said. "However, big data can also raise challenging questions about how we safeguard privacy and civil liberties."

In addition to the recommendations to Congress, the White House report outlines several steps that the administration intends to take on its own.

The report calls on the relevant civil rights and consumer protection agencies within the government to expand their technical expertise to better guard against the use of data profiling to discriminate against certain classes in areas such as housing, employment or consumer credit.

The administration is also looking to ensure that data collected about students through platforms such as online courses is used only for educational purposes.

Additionally, the White House Office of Management and Budget will begin coordinating with other agencies to expand the protections of the 1974 Privacy Act to non-U.S. individuals. That move comes as a nod to the inherently global nature of cloud computing, and appears to be a partial response to the challenges tech firms have experienced in expanding into other countries, where concerns run high about the protections of their data afforded under U.S. law.

"We should be leading in the international conversation on big data that reaffirms our commitment to interoperable global privacy frameworks," Pritzker said. "We have to consider big data as an international issue."


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