Do Not Let Fear Run Big Data Legislation

Data innovation is being governed, it can't be through fear


Big Data has always been thought of as the future. It has meant that the innovations made today are generally seen as foundations to future work done with data.

We will eventually see the way we use data today in a similar way to how we view dialup internet connections. However, the where, how and why around these future innovations are affected by the decisions that we make today.

More accurately, much of the innovation that comes will be either constrained or catalyzed by the decisions that governments make today in light of the recent Edward Snowden revelations, hacks and general media outcry about the lack of privacy.

Moves are being made, consultancies being taken and even people being appointed, to help governments make the best decisions in this space. The US have recently brought DJ Patil on board precisely for this reason and have been in talks with some of the largest data holders in the world to make sure they are making the best decisions on this.

The problem is simply that data is increasingly a way to make huge sums of money, either from selling the data directly or targeting advertisements at specific consumer groups. This means that in an ideal world the private sector that is making trillions from the use of data would be self regulating and not being constrained by government legislation.

However, this is not the case as companies are inherently there to maximize profits. This means that governments are now seeing that they need to step in to make sure that this is being done in a fair a just way that does not negatively impact consumers.

This kind of work is an unfortunate necessity, but it also impacts on the speedy innovation within this area.

The potential that Big Data has across the world is huge, from curing diseases to saving the lives of millions during natural disasters. The quicker we can get to these ideals, the better, but we also need to make sure that they are achieved in the correct way, without infringing on the rights of the general population.

This is a struggle simply because if the current speed of innovation and technology change is 100mph, the legislative speed is 5mph. There is no way for the necessary legislation to be conceived, debated and passed in enough time to govern the technology that it needs to. Essentially governments operate from a floppy disk drives whilst technology companies use in-memory databases.

So is there a way around this?

There are no clear cut answers to the question, but the best way to do so is through regular contact and congresses with the companies who are making these innovations in the private sector. If they can give governments glances into how this kind of legislation should be drafted, then they will have the best chance of creating effective legislation without suffocating innovation.

One thing remains clear throughout the process though, and this is that there is no place for fear or hyperbole within discussions. At the moment we are in luck with having a president who cannot run in the next elections, so he can make decisions without needing to make impacts on opinion polls. If future governments need to cater to media hype as well as the facts surrounding data legislation then it will never work as companies will have little chance to make the changes they really need to.


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