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Big Data and the Future of Privacy

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  • FTC To Explore "Big Data" and Discrimination: The Federal Trade Commission will host a workshop entitled "Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?" The FTC will explore the effects of "big data" analytics on low-income and other underserved communities. Several members of the EPIC Advisory Board will be participating. Earlier this year, the FTC published a report on data brokers, warning that, "collecting and storing large amounts of data not only increases the risk of a data breach or other unauthorized access but also increases the potential harm that could be caused." The White House also convened a task force and published a report on "big data" this year. At EPIC's urging, the White House included public participation in the review process. EPIC submitted extensive comments, warning about the enormous risk to Americans of current "big data" practices but also made clear that problems are not new, citing the Privacy Act of 1974. In 2009, EPIC testified in support of new legislation to regulate the data broker industry. For more information, see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy, and EPIC: FTC. (Sep. 10, 2014)
  • Home Depot Data Breach Exposes Millions of Credit Card Records: A data breach at Home Depot might have exposed millions of consumers' credit card records, according to an announcement from Home Depot's corporate center. "We're looking into some unusual activity that might indicate a possible payment data breach," the announcement read, "If we confirm a breach has occurred, we will make sure our customers are notified immediately." In the last year, 70 million Target customers, 33 million Adobe users, 4.6 million Snapchat users, and potentially all 148 million eBay users had their personal information exposed by database breaches. In May of this year, the President's science advisors surprisingly found little risk in the massive collection of personal data by companies. However, a recent FTC report on data brokers warned that "collecting and storing large amounts of data not only increases the risk of a data breach or other unauthorized access but also increases the potential harm that could be caused." EPIC has urged the White House to enact the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and to promote Privacy Enhancing Techniques that minimize or eliminate the collection of personally identifiable information. For more information, see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy, and EPIC: Identity Theft. (Sep. 4, 2014)
  • Report - Half of American Adults Data Hacked So far This Year: A new report finds that 432 million online accounts in the US have been hacked this year, concerning about 110 million Americans. In the last year, 70 million Target customers, 33 million Adobe users, 4.6 million Snapchat users, and potentially all 148 million eBay users had their personal information exposed by database breaches. Earlier this month, the President's science advisors found little risk in the continued collection of personal data. However, the FTC's recent report on data brokers warned that, "collecting and storing large amounts of data not only increases the risk of a data breach or other unauthorized access but also increases the potential harm that could be caused." Earlier, EPIC urged the White House to promote Privacy Enhancing Techniques that minimize or eliminate the collection of personally identifiable information. For more information, see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy, EPIC: Identity Theft and EPIC: Choicepoint. (May. 29, 2014)
  • White House Publishes Report on "Big Data and Future of Privacy": The White House has released a report on big data and the future of privacy. The report "Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values" makes several recommendations to the President: "(1) advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights; (2) pass national data breach legislation; (3) extend privacy protections to non-U.S. persons; (4) ensure data collected on students in schools is used for educational purposes; (5) expand technical expertise to stop discrimination; and (6) amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act." The report identifies discrimination as a key concern, stating "A significant finding of this report is that big data analytics have the potential to eclipse longstanding civil rights protections in how personal information is used in housing, credit, employment, health, education, and the marketplace." The report also recommends the adoption of Privacy Enhancing Technologies. EPIC urged public participation in the review process. The White House report incorporates several recommendations from EPIC and other privacy organizations. For more information, see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy, EPIC: "Privacy in the Commercial World." (May. 1, 2014)
  • Coalition Urges White House to Recognize EU Opinion; End NSA Telephone Records Program: In a letter to the White House, a coalition of US organizations urged the Administration to recognize the recent opinion by the Court of Justice, the highest court in Europe, that ended a European data retention mandate. The European law required telephone and internet companies to retain metadata on customers for national security purposes. The European Court of Justice ruled that this practice violates the fundamental right to privacy and is illegal. The US groups argue that the opinion "bears directly on the White House's review of the NSA Telephone Records Collection Program and also the White House study of Big Data and the Future of Privacy." The groups urged the White House to 1) recognize the Court's decision in its upcoming report on big data and privacy; and 2) end the NSA telephone record collection program. The letter states that the decision by European Court "is the most significant legal opinion from any court in the world on the risks of big data and the ongoing importance of privacy protection." Last year EPIC, joined by dozens of legal scholars and former members of the Church Committee, urged the US Supreme Court to find the NSA's telephone record collection program unlawful. More recently, EPIC submitted extensive comments warning the White House of the enormous risks of current big data practices. For more information, see EPIC: Data Retention and EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy. (Apr. 16, 2014)
  • Court Upholds FTC Authority to Safeguard Data Privacy: A federal judge has ruled that the Federal Trade Commission has the power to enforce data security standards. In the case FTC v. Wyndham, the Commission alleged that criminals stole hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers from hotel guests because Wyndham Hotels maintained lax data security. Wyndham responded that the FTC could not bring an enforcement action against the company without first publishing regulations. Judge Esther Salas held that the FTC's authority to investigate "unfair or deceptive" business practices included data protection. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez stated earlier, "Companies should take reasonable steps to secure sensitive consumer information. When they do not, it is not only appropriate, but critical, that the FTC take action on behalf of consumers." For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, and EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy. (Apr. 11, 2014)
  • Federal Agencies Fail to Safeguard "Big Data," Breaches Doubled in Just a Few Years: The Government Accountability Office has issued a report, warning that federal agencies "have not been consistent or fully effective in responding to data breaches." The GAO found that "the number of reported information security incidents involving personally identifiable information has more than doubled over the last several years." The report further states, "the increasing number of cyber incidents at federal agencies, many involving the compromise of personally identifiable information, highlights the need for focused agency action to ensure the security of the large amount of sensitive personal information collected by the federal government." EPIC recently warned the White House about the enormous risks to Americans of current "big data" practices. EPIC and more than 20 organizations have urged the Administrations to establish strong privacy safeguards and improve accountability across the government and private sector. For more information, see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy. (Apr. 10, 2014)
  • EPIC Warns White House About Privacy Risks of "Big Data": In response to a request from the White House, EPIC has submitted extensive comments on "Big Data and the Future of Privacy." EPIC warned the White House about the enormous risk to Americans of current "big data" practices but also made clear that problems are not new, citing the Privacy Act of 1974 which responded to the challenges of "data banks." EPIC noted the dramatic increases in identity theft and security breaches. EPIC called for the swift enactment of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and the end of opaque algorithmic profiling. EPIC wrote "It is vitally important to update current privacy laws to minimize collection, secure the information that is collected, and prevent abuses of predictive analytics." EPIC and more than 20 organizations previously urged the White House to establish privacy protections for user data that is being gathered by large companies and government agencies. A report from the White House is expected on April 17. For more information, see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy. (Apr. 7, 2014)
  • NGO Coalition Tells President "Establish Privacy Protections for Big Data": EPIC along with more than 20 other organizations sent comments to the White House on "Big Data and the Future of Privacy." The organization urged the President to establish new safeguards for organizations collecting "big data" including transparency, accountability, robust privacy techniques, and meaningful evaluation. The groups also urged the President to enact the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The incidents of security beaches and identity theft continue to increase in the United States. Meanwhile a new report reveals that consumers are secretly scored by businesses. And the President recently decided to renew the NSA's ineffective telephone record collection program. The White House agreed to accept public comments after EPIC and two dozen organizations petitioned the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The White House has sponsored several conferences on Big Data and the Future of Privacy, though some of the meeting have been closed to the public. A report from the White House is expected on April 17. For more information, see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy. (Apr. 2, 2014)
  • White House to Accept Public Comments on Big Data and Privacy Review: The White House is requesting public comments on the Obama Administration's "Big Data and the Future of Privacy" review. EPIC, joined by 24 consumer privacy, public interest, scientific, and educational organizations petitioned the Office of Science and Technology Policy last month to accept public comments. The petition stated, "The public should be given the opportunity to contribute to the OSTP's review of 'Big Data and the Future of Privacy' since it is their information that is being collected and their privacy and their future that is at stake." The letter sets out several important questions, including whether current laws are adequate and whether it is possible to maximize the benefits of big data while minimizing the risks to privacy. Comments are due by March 31, 2014. For more information, see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy. (Mar. 5, 2014)
  • White House and MIT to Host Conference on Big Data and Privacy: On March 3, 2014, the White House and MIT will cohost "Big Data Privacy: Advancing the State of the Art in Technology and Practice." The conference is part of the White House's Big Data and the Future of Privacy initiative and will feature keynotes from Counselor to the President John Podesta and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. Scholars, privacy advocates, government representatives and private sector leaders will explore the opportunities and challenges of big data and examine the use of Privacy Enhancing Techniques. President Obama has called for a "comprehensive review of big data and the future of privacy." In response, EPIC and a coalition of consumer and scientific organizations outlined key questions for the White House to explore, and also asked the Office of Science and Technology Policy to encourage public participation. For more information see EPIC: Big Data and the Future of Privacy, EPIC: Privacy and Consumer Profiling, and EPIC: Privacy Tools. (Feb. 24, 2014)
  • Senators Rockefeller and Markey Propose Data Broker Legislation: Senators Rockefeller and Markey have introduced the The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). The proposed Act imposes transparency and accountability requirements on data brokers and other companies that profit from the collection and sale of consumer information. Under the DATA Act, consumers would be able to access their personal information, make corrections, and opt out of marketing schemes. The DATA Act would empower the FTC to impose civil penalties on violators, and would prohibit data brokers from collecting consumer data in deceptive ways. In 2009, EPIC testified in support of new legislation to regulate the data broker industry. In 2005, EPIC's complaint to the FTC against data broker Choicepoint lead to a $10 million settlement. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission, EPIC: Choicepoint and EPIC: Privacy and Consumer Profiling. (Feb. 13, 2014)
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge White House to Listen to Public on "Big Data and Privacy": EPIC, joined by 24 consumer privacy, public interest, scientific, and educational organizations petitioned the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy to accept public comments on the Big Data and The Future of Privacy study now underway. The Office's primary function is to advise the President on scientific and technological issues. The President announced the Big Data review during a recent speech on NSA reform. The petition calls on the Office of Science and Technology Policy to incorporate the concerns and opinions of the public and lays out a number of important questions to consider, including whether current laws are adequate and also whether it is possible to maximize the benefits of big data while minimizing the risks to privacy. For more information, see EPIC: Privacy and Consumer Profiling. (Feb. 10, 2014)
  • FTC Chair Ramirez Urges Senate to Act on Data Security Legislation: The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Privacy in the Digital Age: Preventing Data Breaches and Combating Cybercrime" followed a series of major data breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus, and Michaels, which compromised the personal data of tens of millions of consumers. Senator Leahy, who has introduced important data privacy legislation, said "In the digital age, Americans face threats to their privacy and security unlike any time before in our Nation's history." FTC Chair Edith Ramirez expressed strong support for federal data security legislation. (2h18m). In 2012 President Obama set out a framework for consumer privacy protection, the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which is supported by consumer privacy organizations. For more information, see EPIC: Privacy Legislation, EPIC: Identity Theft, and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission. (Feb. 5, 2014)
  • White House Announces Review of "Big Data and the Future of Privacy": Following the President's speech on reform of the intelligence collection programs, White House counselor John Podesta has announced "a comprehensive review of the way that 'big data will affect the way we live and work; the relationship between government and citizens; and how public and private sectors can spur innovation and maximize the opportunities and free flow of this information while minimizing the risks to privacy." This is the first major privacy initiative announced by the White House since the release of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in 2012. The undertaking will involve key officials across the federal government, including the President’s Science Advisor and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. EPIC has participated in several workshops and studies concerning the intersection of privcy and "big data." (Jan. 23, 2014)
  • "Big Data and Security in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities":

    Marc Rotenberg,
    EPIC President

    Research Councils UK
    Bibliothéque Solvay
    Brussels Belgium
    January 21, 2014

    (Jan. 21, 2014)
  • Senate Report Shines Light on How Data Brokers Operate: A Senate Committee Majority Staff report released today highlights the oft-concealed practices of Data Brokers. The report finds that data brokers lack transparency and collect sensitive personal information, while individuals lack basic rights to know what data is collected or how it is used. The brokers, the report notes, prevent business customers from revealing how data is obtained. The report also exposed how personal information is often used to target the financially vulnerable. Thus far, the data broker industry has largely escaped federal regulation. In 2009, EPIC testified in support of new legislation to regulate the data broker industry. In 2005, EPIC's complaint to the FTC against data broker Choicepoint lead to a $10 million settlement. For more information, see EPIC: ChoicePoint and EPIC: Federal Trade Commission. (Dec. 18, 2013)
  • Spotlight: FBI Pushes Forward with Massive Biometric Database Despite Privacy Risks: EPIC's Spotlight on Surveillance Project returns to put the spotlight on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Next Generation Identification program. A billion dollar project to increase the Bureau's ability to collect biometric identifiers on millions of individuals in the United States. The FBI is currently adding facial, iris, and voice identification techniques that will greatly increase the Bureau’s ability to pursue mass surveillance. EPIC is pursuing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to learn more about the program. Many of the techniques now being deployed in the US were developed by the US Department of Defense for war zones. EPIC has urged greater Congressional oversight of the program and new privacy safeguards. See EPIC's Spotlight on Surveillance on FBI's Next Generation Identification Program. (Dec. 10, 2013)
  • How Data Determines Your Fate at the Airport:

    How Data Determines Your Fate at the Airport

    Khaliah Barnes,
    EPIC Administrative Law Counsel

    Kojo Nnamdi Show

    WAMU.ORG
    October 29, 2013

    (Oct. 29, 2013)
  • Cyber Security: The Emerging Debate Over How Virtual Information Should Be Controlled and Protected:

    Cyber Security: The Emerging Debate Over How Virtual Information Should Be Controlled and Protected

    Alan Butler,
    EPIC Appellate Advocacy Counsel

    National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
    Washington, DC
    October 10, 2013

    (Oct. 10, 2013)
  • FTC Chairwoman Calls for Transparency in Big Data: In a keynote speech at the Technology Policy Institute Aspen Forum, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez called upon companies to "move their data collection and use practices out of the shadow and into the sunlight." Chairwoman Ramirez highlighted the risks of big data including indiscriminate collection, data breaches, and behind-the-scenes profiling. She stressed the importance of protecting consumers' privacy and said, "with big data comes big responsibility." EPIC previously testified before Congress and called for the regulation of data brokers because there is too much secrecy and too little accountability in their business practices. EPIC has also consistently recommended that the FTC enforce Fair Information Practices, such as those contained in the Administration's Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, against commercial actors. For more information, see EPIC: Choicepoint and EPIC: Privacy and Consumer Profiling. (Aug. 19, 2013)
  • White House Launches Open Data Project: The President issued an Executive Order and memorandum this week outlining the administration's new "Open Data Policy." According to the White House, the goal is to make information "accessible, discoverable, and usable by the public" and to "promote interoperability and openness." The Executive Order states that agencies should also "safeguard individual privacy, confidentiality, and national security." The White House has launched Project Open Data, a collection of code, tools, and case studies to help agencies adopt the open data policy. An article in Foreign Policy this week "Think Again: Big Data" raises provocative questions about the actual value of "Big Data." For more information on Open Government issues, see: EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: Privacy Act. (May. 10, 2013)
  • European Privacy Agencies Issue Report on Privacy and Big Data: Responding to growing interest in privacy and "big data," representatives of the data protection agencies in Europe have issued an opinion on the purpose limitation principles in the context of big data. The Article 29 Working Party recommends that personal data should be collected for "specified, explicit and legitimate purposes" and that personal data not be "further processed in a way incompatible with those purposes." The group also recommended that the proposed EU data protection regulation incorporate a list of factors to aid in determining compatible uses. Last fall, EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg testified in support of the proposed reform before the European Parliament, and a group of transatlantic consumer organizations wrote a letter expressing their support. For more information, see EPIC: EU Data Protection Directive. (Apr. 16, 2013)

Overview

Big data is a term for the collection of sets of data that are large and complex and then analyzing these data sets for relationships. The size of these data sets prevents traditional methods of analyzing data to be effective. Rather than focusing on precise relationships between individual pieces of data, big data uses various algorithms and techniques to to infer general trends over the entire set. What counts is the quantity of the data, rather than its quality. It looks for the correlation rather than the causation, the what rather than the why.

Big data has only become possible in the last few years with advances in collection, storage, and interpretation of data. Datafication refers to reinterpreting information into usable sets of data. Data collection, from medicine, financial institutions, social networking, and many other fields, has exploded in recent years. Storage costs for this data have plummeted which lowers the required justification for holding onto data rather than discarding it. The costs and difficulty in processing this data has also dropped. These factors, along with better techniques for analyzing the data, have allowed relationships to be discovered in ways that would not have been possible in years past.

While there are many benefits to the growth of big data analytics, many traditional methods of privacy protections fail. Many notions of privacy rely on informed consent for the disclosure and use of an individual’s private data. However, big data means that data is a resource that can be used and reused, often in ways that were inconceivable at the time the data was collected. Anonymity is also eroded in a big data paradigm. Even if every individual piece of information is striped of personal information, the relationships between the individual pieces can reveal the individual's identity.

Obama Administration Big Data Review

Following the President's speech speech on reform of the National Security Agency's bulk meta-data collection program under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, White House counselor John Podesta announced "a comprehensive review of the way that 'big data will affect the way we live and work; the relationship between government and citizens; and how public and private sectors can spur innovation and maximize the opportunities and free flow of this information while minimizing the risks to privacy." This was the first major privacy initiative announced by the White House since the release of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in 2012. The undertaking will involve key officials across the federal government, including the President’s Science Advisor and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups has already written a letter, to John Holdren, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. EPIC urged OSTP to provide the public an opportunity to comment and suggested that the review take into consideration (but not be limited to) the following important questions about the role of Big Data in our society:

1) What potential harms arise from big data collection and how are these risks currently addressed?

(2) What are the legal frameworks currently governing big data, and are they adequate?

(3) How could companies and government agencies be more transparent in the use of big data, for example, by publishing algorithms?

(4) What technical measures could promote the benefits of big data while minimizing the privacy risks?

(5) What experience have other countries had trying to address the challenges of big data?

(6) What future trends concerning big data could inform the current debate?

Public Comments by EPIC and Other Advocacy Groups

On March 4, 2014, in response to suggestions from EPIC and other consumer privacy groups, the Office of Science and Technology Policy published a Request for Information, which provides the public an opportunity to comment on the Podesta Big Data Review. EPIC submitted comments to the Podesta Review, emphasizing how the current Big Data environment poses enormous risks to ordinary Americans. EPIC emphasized the data security risks and substantial risks to student privacy that exist in the current big data regulatory environment and called for the Administration to better implement the Fair Information Practices(FIPs) first set out in 1973.

Other groups comments include: Center for Democracy and Technology, The Future of Privacy Forum, The Privacy Coalition, The Internet Association, The Consumer Federation of America, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

On May 1, 2014, the White House released the Big Data Privacy Report. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology ("PCAST") also released a report on the same day, entitled, "Big Data and Privacy: A Technological Perspective."

Data Brokers

Data brokers are large commercial organizations that collect vast swathes of data on millions and sometimes hundreds of millions of consumers in order to resell the data or utilize it in targeted marketing campaigns. Recently, the data broker industry as a whole has come under a great deal of scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission and the Senate Commerce Committee. FTC Commissioner Julie Brill has announced a new initiative, "Reclaim Your Name", which is designed to promote more transparency in the data broker industry and give consumers greater control over their individual data. The Senate Commerce Committee, under the leadership of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) undertook an examination of the data broker industry this past December, holding hearings, hearings on the issue, and releasing a report, A Review of the Data Broker Industry: Collection, Use, and Sale of Consumer Data for Marketing Purposes of their findings.

Most recently, Senator Rockefeller, along with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), released a bill entitled The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act. This act is designed to provide some broad guidelines for regulating the data broker industry.

Big Data Statistics

  • Google is more than 1 million petabytes in size and processes more than 24 petabytes of data a day, a volume that is thousands of times the quantity of all printed material in the U.S. Library of Congress.
  • 32 billion searches are performed each month on Twitter.
  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month and over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube - that's almost an hour for every person on Earth, and 50% more than last year.
  • 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years.
  • In 2012, data was forecasted to double every two years through the year 2020.
  • In 2020, the amount of digital data produced will exceed 40 zettabytes, which is the equivalent of 5,200 gigabytes for every man, woman and child on planet earth.
  • * 1 Gigabyte = Approximately 1 full-length feature film in digital format; 1 Petabyte= One Million Gigabytes or a Quadrillion Bytes; 1 Exabyte = One Billion Gigabytes; 1 Zettabyte = One Trillion Gigabytes or One Million Petabytes.

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