NTIA Asks Public How To Balance Privacy With Data Collection

The Commerce Department said today that it's seeking public input on some of the concerns raised by the White House's highly publicized Big Data report.

Specifically, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is seeking opinions on how to reconcile privacy principles with the benefits of data collection. The NTIA said in 2012 that it supported a privacy “bill of rights” that would incorporate fair information practices -- which limit companies' ability to amass data.

Now, the NTIA is asking for input about whether that proposal should be “clarified or modified to accommodate the benefits of big data.”

The NTIA also is seeking comments on specific concerns flagged in last month's report -- including whether Big Data can facilitate discrimination. The report, released in May, said that the “fusion” of different types of data “has the power to deliver exactly the right message, product or service to consumers before they even ask.” But the authors added that “'perfect personalization' also leaves room for subtle and not-so-subtle forms of discrimination in pricing, services and opportunities.”

The NTIA is now asking the public to weigh in on that possibility. “Should the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights address the risk of discriminatory effects resulting from automated decision processes using personal data, and if so, how?” the NTIA asks in its official request for comments. “How could consumer privacy legislation ... make a useful contribution to addressing this concern? Should big data analytics be accompanied by assessments of the potential discriminatory impacts on protected classes?”

The NTIA also seeks comments about whether data brokers pose a significant risk and, if so, whether legislation is needed. The Big Data report also suggested that data brokers should allow consumers to exert more control over how information about them is used and to correct wrong information.

Privacy advocate Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, expressed concern over the NTIA's move. He says the administration should move forward with the 2012 proposal for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. “Nothing has really changed over the last two years, except an expansion of practices that were already in place to conduct far-reaching commercial surveillance on Americans,” he says in an emailed statement. “It’s way overdue for the White House to send a privacy legislative proposal to Congress that would prevent the unfair and discriminatory practices now in place.”

Tags: privacy
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