USACM Contributes To Big Data Review

By David Bruggeman
April 14, 2014

As part of the Administration’s review of big data, privacy and the economy, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a Request for Information (RFI) in March.  The RFI sought comments on the public policy implications of big data, alone with some insights on the potential benefits of big data and the technology trends that will influence it.  USACM submitted its own comments.

While the RFI defines big data as involving datasets so “large, diverse and/or complex, that conventional technologies cannot adequately capture, store and analyze them,” USACM noted that the challenges facing big data are applicable to datasets currently being captured, stored and analyzed.  Additionally, the challenges facing data collection, analysis and storage will change as computing capabilities do.

Amongst those challenges are:

  • The increasing ease of re-identifying data thought to be “de-identified” or “anonymized.”
  • Ensuring the security of collected data,
  • Confirming the accuracy of collected data, and
  • Tracking data use and sharing

USACM also noted several areas where research could help address these challenges.  More research in provenance and metadata will help make it easier to share data and to track data flows.  Research in archival practices can help address the challenges of data storage and retrieval in the cloud, and further research in de-identifying data will be needed as re-identification continues to become easier.

Moving forward, policies in big data will need to be flexible to account for the rapid change of what is the state of the art.  They should be as technology-neutral as possible.  Policies can also help to encourage needed infrastructure, including: inexpensive secure homes for collected data, flexible privacy settings for consumers, and additional privacy risk controls.

The Administration’s big data review continues.  A progress report may come from the Administration this month, but the Commerce Department and the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology are also working on pieces of this project, which will likely last several months.