For Immediate Release:
August 18, 2014
Executive Director of Center on Privacy &Technology Presses White House, FTC to Support Strong Consumer Protections for Big Data
Argues that Approach in White House Technology Advisors' Report "Ill-Advised," May Disadvantage Women, Minorities, Immigrants and LGBT Community
Washington, D.C. [8/18/14] –Today, Alvaro Bedoya, Executive Director of the Center on Privacy &Technology at Georgetown Law, urged the Federal Trade Commission to back strong consumer controls over personal data in its upcoming Big Data Workshop. In comments submitted late Friday, Bedoya argued that an industry-backed approach supported by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology may hurt traditionally disadvantaged communities.
"Industry advocates are promoting the idea that Big Data is essentially too big for consumer control, and that instead of empowering consumers with a better ability to control the collection of their data, the law should focus on implementing limits on how that data is used," wrote Bedoya. "This strategy is ill-advised."
Bedoya explained that vulnerable communities often have their sensitive data misused in harmful ways. He cited as examples the Census' release of the confidential residential data of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Army's surveillance of LGBT servicemembers, and data brokers' creation of target lists for seniors suffering from dementia, Hispanics who tend to use payday loans, and women who have suffered sexual assault.
Bedoya argued that a sole focus on "use limitations" would not prevent these harms from recurring. Instead, he backed empowering consumers with strong controls to prevent their data from being collected in the first place.
"The American public may never make up its mind about women, gay people, immigrants, minorities, the mentally ill, and the poor –or how they and their data should be treated. Individual controls on data collection take that choice out of the hands of companies and the government, and into the hands of the individual." He added: "Privacy is in many ways a shield for the weak. An exclusive focus on use limitations would take away that shield and replace it with promises."
The filing also explained how the law fails to protect data generated by popular wearable devices and health and fitness apps. "In the world of Big Data, the less you know about your data, the fewer privacy protections it receives."
This the second of two filings issued by Center staff and faculty in the Center's first two weeks of operation. In the first filing, Bedoya joined with David Vladeck, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Center, to press the White House to return to an earlier approach to Big Data outlined in the Obama Administration's Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.
Both comments clarified that the positions were presented in a personal capacity and did not reflect any position on behalf of the Center or Georgetown Law.
Alvaro Bedoya is the former Chief Counsel to Senator Al Franken (D.-Minn.) and to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. He was named Executive Director of the Center on Privacy &Technology in July.
Professor David Vladeck recently returned to Georgetown Law after serving for nearly four years as the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission. During Professor Vladeck's tenure, the agency brought over 50 privacy enforcement cases, many against large technology firms, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and others.
The Center on Privacy &Technology at Georgetown Law was launched in July and began operation in August. Details on the launch can be found here.