EFF on the White House's Big Data report: what about privacy and surveillance?


Last week, I wrote about danah boyd's analysis of the White House's Big Data report [PDF]. Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has added its analysis to the discussion. EFF finds much to like about the report, but raises two very important points:

* The report assumes that you won't be able to opt out of leaving behind personal information and implicitly dismisses the value of privacy tools like ad blockers, Do Not Track, Tor, etc

* The report is strangely silent on the relationship between Big Data and mass surveillance, except to the extent that it equates whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden with the Fort Hood shooter, lumping them all in as "internal threats"

Even though the review that led to this report was announced during President Obama's speech on NSA reform, and even though respondents to the White House's Big Data Survey "were most wary of how intelligence and law enforcement agencies are collecting and using data about them," the report itself is surprisingly silent on the issue.2 This is especially confusing given how much the report talks about the need for more transparency in the private sector when it comes to big data. Given that this same logic could well be applied to intelligence big data programs, we don't understand why the report did not address this vital issue.

Although the report may have been silent on government use of big data for intelligence gathering, we won't be. We believe that the most important action the White House can take regarding big data would be to immediately stop misusing Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act and to support statutory reform to end mass collection of information about you. Additionally, surveillance agencies should publicly disclose their mass spying techniques and issue Privacy Impact Assessments that set standards and address whether the agency is meeting them. To quote from our public comments to the White House on big data: "Time after time we've seen the witches' brew of ambiguity and secrecy poison democracy and the rule of law," and the only antidote for this poison, even in the age of big data, is transparency.

The White House Big Data Report: The Good, The Bad, and The Missing
[Jeremy Gillula, Kurt Opsahl and Rainey Reitman/EFF]