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James Boyd
IU Maurer School of Law
Office 812-855-0156


IU privacy expert offers recommendations on 'big data'

April 10, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University privacy expert and Distinguished Professor Fred H. Cate has recommended actions to protect personal privacy while achieving the vast potential of so-called “big data” in response to a White House request for information on the subject.

Cate, who is also the C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law at the Maurer School of Law and director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, filed the comments along with Microsoft’s general manager of trustworthy computing, Peter Cullen, and the Oxford Internet Institute’s Viktor Mayer-Schönberger.

The comments reflect the outcome of a three-year multinational research project involving leading regulators, industry executives, public interest advocates and academic experts from 19 countries on five continents addressing information privacy and security challenges presented by big data.

"In an age of big data, privacy is more essential than ever before, but if we are to protect it effectively -- while continuing to enjoy the benefits that big data is already making possible -- we need to evolve better, faster and more scalable mechanisms," Cate said. "What we’ve found are four elements that are essential to protecting personal privacy while unlocking the capabilities afforded by big data."

Those four elements would:

  • Place more responsibility for data stewardship, and liability for reasonably foreseeable harms, on the users of data rather than using notice and consent to shift the burden to individuals.
  • Focus more on uses of big data as opposed to the collection or storage of data or the purposes for which data were originally collected.
  • Take a risk-management approach guided by a broad framework of perceptible harms identified through a transparent, inclusive process including regulators, industry, academics and individuals.
  • Provide meaningful transparency and redress for those affected by inappropriate use or breach of their data.

The full comments can be viewed on the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research website.

In addition to filing the comments, Cate also spoke at the third White House workshop on big data, held in Berkeley, Calif., on April 1.

Nicole Wong, U.S. deputy chief technology officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said such feedback is vital.

"The discussion of big data should not be confined to Washington or to academia," she said. "This issue is of such great importance and involves an array of technologies already so pervasive that it demands a robust, public conversation about how we -- as a nation and as individuals -- can realize the great benefits of big data while also protecting privacy and other values."

President Barack Obama earlier this year called for a comprehensive review of the potential impact of big data in the everyday lives of Americans and how the U.S. can continue promoting “the free flow of information in ways that are consistent with both privacy and security.”

The White House is expected to review public comments and issue a report on its findings this spring. Wong and John Podesta, White House counselor and former chief of staff, are leading the effort.

Cate is the director of the Indiana University Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research and the C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law. He is a member of the inaugural U.S. Department of Homeland Security Data Privacy and Integrity Committee Cybersecurity Subcommittee and one of the founding editors of the Oxford University Press journal International Data Privacy Law. He can be reached at 812-855-1161 or