Discrimination potential seen in 'big data' use

Apr 26 2014, 21:31 IST
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Summary'Big data' could be used to discriminate against Americans on issues such as housing and employment...

A White House review of how the government and private sector use large sets of data has found that such information could be used to discriminate against Americans on issues such as housing and employment even as it makes their lives easier in many ways.

''Big data'' is everywhere.

It allows mapping apps to ping cellphones anonymously and determine, in real time, what roads are the most congested. But it also can be used to target economically vulnerable people.

The issue came up during a 90-day review ordered by President Barack Obama, White House counselor John Podesta said in an interview with The Associate Press. Podesta did not discuss all the findings, but said the potential for discrimination is an issue that warrants a closer look.

Federal laws have not kept up with the rapid development of technology in a way that would shield people from discrimination.

The review, expected to be released within the next week, is the Obama administration's first attempt at addressing the vast landscape of challenges, beyond national security and consumer privacy, posed by technological advancements.

President Barack Obama requested the review in January, when he called for changes to some of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs that amass large amounts of data belonging to Americans and foreigners.

The technology that enabled those programs also enables others used in the government and the private sector. The White House separately has reviewed the NSA programs and proposed changes to rein in the massive collection of Americans' phone records and emails.

''It was a moment to step back and say, `Does this change our basic framework or our look at the way we're dealing with records and privacy,''' Podesta said in the interview.

''With the rapidity of the way technology changes, it's going to be hard to imagine what it's going to look like a generation from now. But at least we can look out over the horizon and say, `Here are the trends. What do we anticipate the likely policy issues that it raises?'''

Podesta led the review, along with some of Obama's economic and science advisers. The goal, Podesta said, was to assess whether current laws and policies about privacy are sufficient.

Podesta would not discuss the specific recommendations he will make to Obama. He did mention an unexpected concern that emerged during White House officials' meetings with business leaders and privacy advocates, and merits

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