Big data legislation aims to protect student privacy

Protecting privacy on the open Internet

Big Data

A bipartisan bill will be introduced in the next few weeks in the US House of Representatives to protect student privacy from digital data collection. The student-focused bill will be introduced by Indiana Congressman Luke Messer, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, and Colorado Democrat Jared Polis.

Though the bill will focus on students, it may give President Obama the momentum he needs to address big data concerns in other areas as well.

According to Reuters, the bill is still being finalized and will restrict data collection for educational and legitimate research purposes. The bill goes further than the current privacy pledge made by over 100 companies to prevent the misuse of data collected in classrooms.

Why the focus on big data

After former government contractor Edward Snowden had leaked classified information about the government's use of big data for surveillance, President Obama tasked John Podesta with making proposals to protect privacy. There is now even more data that could be collected as consumers leave more digital trails through the increased use of personal devices and social media, raising the need for privacy laws.

Up until now, many of Obama's big data proposals have failed to attract the attention of lawmakers, including protecting email and data stored in the cloud by updating the Electronic Privacy Communications Act.

The consequences of big data

As businesses could rely on big data to better understand their customers, the downside is that the information could be misused or fall into the wrong hands. Recent examples include the high profile hacks that exposed credit card and customer information from Target and Home Depot in the US.

On Thursday, the White House will issue a report on some of the negative uses of big data. Podesta said that big data could be used as a discrimination tool against people based on race or where they live when looking for jobs or housing.

"Big data techniques have "turbocharged" price discrimination, raising concerns about fairness, particularly when consumers do not control their own data or understand how companies are using it, Podesta said," Reuters reported.

Greater transparency and control on how Big Data is handled and used could help to prevent discrimination.

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