Compliance Management, Privacy

Privacy experts debate worth of mass data collection

The value in troves of data gleaned by the government is contingent on a number of factors, often making for an unbalanced trade off in citizen privacy, according to experts.

On Thursday, a panel of thought leaders debated the topic during a keynote at SC Congress New York titled “Expectations of Online Privacy During a National Crisis.”

Lisa Sotto, partner and head of global privacy and cyber security practice Hunton & Williams, spoke on the perceived worth of expansive data sets.

“Big data experts will tell you that these huge collections of data are actually useless,” Sotto said. “You have to know in advance what you're searching for to collect what you need, and to get to your answer. But these mass repositories are not useful.”

Orrie Dinstein, chief privacy leader and senior IT and Intellectual Property counsel at GE Capital, said that the worth of mass data collections depends on what kind of information it is, for example, corporate data vs.that gleaned from social media sources.

Dinstein also added that significant findings from massive data sets can take time to surface.

“With big data, one of the interesting things is that you often do not know what you're going to find in the data when you collect it – and many of the beneficial uses of the big data databases emerge months or years later,” Dinstein said.

Adding to the discussion, an audience member challenged the ease with which individuals and companies should be willing to accept concerning levels of surveillance heralded in the name of national security.

He pointed out that if an individual's personal email account, for instance, was being accessed by a foreign government, it would leave them in a far less vulnerable position than if their own government carried out the deed.

“The United States government can touch me,” the audience member said, addressing the threat of action by law enforcement.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took a stance involving this very concern on government surveillance.

The group filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department last Thursday to spur its response in providing information on its data-collecting tactics.

ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in late March seeking records that might show when DOJ evoked the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) to glean data used in criminal prosecutions.

The organization alleged that defendants weren't notified of the monitoring, a practice that has “shielded warrantless wiretapping from judicial review." After waiting several months to hear back on the requested information, ACLU filed the suit in a U.S. District Court in New York.

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