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McClatchy-Tribune  05/01/2014 8:41 PM ET
White House report calls for data privacy protections [San Jose Mercury News :: ]

May 01--Citing the massive amount of data being generated by computerized gadgets, a White House report Thursday called for tougher laws to protect peoples' privacy and guard against the information being used to discriminate against members of minority groups and others.

But while generally praising the study, several public interest groups said it didn't go far enough.

"The report failed to identify the commercial surveillance complex that has been put in place by Google, Facebook and many other data-driven businesses," concluded the Center for Digital Democracy.

And Nuala O'Connor, CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, chided the report for not addressing the National Security Agency spying on Internet users. President Barack Obama had ordered the study in January when he demanded reforms to restrict such NSA snooping.

Nearly a year after the NSA's clandestine surveillance of that information was publicly disclosed by the agency's former contractor Edward Snowden, O'Connor said, "the government still has unfettered access to the data in the hands of the private sector."

Some Silicon Valley tech leaders also have expressed frustration in the past over the White House's unwillingness to rein in the intelligence agency. After he and other valley executives met at the White House in March to voice concerns about NSA surveillance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg complained that Obama's proposed intelligence reforms "are simply not enough."

Responding to the White House report Thursday, a Facebook statement said, "we realize the potential impact of big data on everything from science to health to civil society, and we want to help achieve that potential in a way that respects people's ability to control their own information."

However, the Center for Data Innovation, which promotes policies to advance technological innovation and productivity, said it feared the report might result in "unnecessary restrictions on the collection and use of data by the private sector."

The report's recommendations included a call for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights -- something Obama first proposed in 2012 -- and a national standard for notifying people when their data is accessed by hackers or others who don't have a right to see it.

The study was overseen by White House counselor John Podesta, who noted in a summary that the data increasingly being gathered by smart devices has innumerable benefits.

Besides helping doctors more quickly identify and treat fatal illnesses, he said, "jet engines and delivery trucks now come outfitted with sensors that continuously monitor hundreds of data points and send automatic alerts when maintenance is needed. Utility companies are starting to use big data to predict periods of peak electric demand, adjusting the grid to be more efficient and potentially averting brownouts."

Nonetheless, he added, "one significant finding of our review was the potential for big data analytics to lead to discriminatory outcomes and to circumvent long-standing civil rights protections in housing, employment, credit, and the consumer marketplace."

Contact Steve Johnson at 408-920-5043. Follow him at Twitter.com/steveatmercnews

 

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