American Society of Magazine Editors

All Eyes on 'Big Data'

February 14, 2014

“Big Data” is a popular topic in Washington, and the announcement of two high profile data breaches have the light shining even brighter on data use, and the issue of data security, in particular.

In mid-December, the Senate Commerce Committee issued its report on the data broker industry, the culmination of a year-long investigation by Senator Rockefeller (D-WV).  The investigation started in October of 2012, when Senator Rockefeller sent questionnaires to nine data broker companies seeking answers to questions about their data collection and use practices.  The findings of the report indicated concern about the amount and use of data collected, and the lack of transparency in the industry.

Still unsatisfied, Chairman Rockefeller recently announced another round of inquiries focused on the compilation and sale of products that identify consumers based on their financial vulnerability or health status. Senator Rockefeller had brought attention to this issue during a December hearing.   The additional background, coupled with the report and the results of a similar investigation being undertaken by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), could serve as the foundation for legislation regulating the data broker industry.  

The Administration is also getting in on the action.  In early January, President Obama tasked John Podesta – an advisor to the President and former Chief of Staff to President Clinton – to lead a comprehensive review of big data.  The stated goal is to “assess how privacy, the economy, and public policy are impacted by developments in big data, and whether policy changes are required to deal with this technological advancement.”