White House report on data collection calls for privacy protections

John Podesta, shown in this file photo, is an advisor to President Obama and led the White House review of data collection.
John Podesta, shown in this file photo, is an advisor to President Obama and led the White House review of data collection.
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

A new White House report on privacy and data collection says the mass collection of information is “saving lives” but calls for additional safeguards in how personal information is stored and collected.

The report, issued Thursday, is the result of a three-month review led by White House advisor John Podesta and administration officials. President Obama called for the assessment of so-called “big data” amid pressure over revelations about U.S. spy agencies collecting data on phone records.

The review did not focus on collecting data for intelligence, however, opting instead to review policies in other government agencies, the private sector and education.


“As more data is collected, analyzed, and stored on both public and private systems, we must be vigilant in ensuring that balance is maintained between government and citizens, and revise our laws accordingly,” the report said.

The document praises the use of big data to assist in disaster recovery and in medicine, and describes the expansion of analytics as a potential economic boon to the United States.

But it also outlines six policy recommendations to the president, including reviving the push for a consumer privacy bill of rights that would set standards for how personal information is used.

The report also calls for the passage of a cybersecurity bill that would set a national standard for handling a data “breach.”

The report endorses the notion of extending privacy protections to non-U.S. citizens and argues that information collected on students in schools should be used only for educational purposes. It also called for amending the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to ensure online content has the same legal protections as other information.

The report also warned against discrimination that can result when data are mishandled and urged the federal government to guard against cases when information is used to categorize or sort citizens into groups.


“We must prevent new modes of discrimination that some uses of big data may enable, particularly with regard to longstanding civil rights protections in housing, employment, and credit,” according to a synopsis of the report.

The White House said the Commerce Department would take the lead on crafting legislation and policy related to the issues.

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