Is it just me, or has Big Data suddenly gone viral? Holland & Knight just announced it is launching a new data privacy and security unit, led by partners Christopher Cwalina and Steven Roosa, who left Reed Smith to take on the new task. Its unit will be part of the firm’s public policy and regulation group.
Then, Legal affiliate Law Technology News received a press release from Hunton & Williams’ Centre for Information Policy Leadership, which has launched a new multi-industry “Ethical Analytics” program “to highlight the benefits and directly address the risks raised by analytics in the age of big data by developing voluntary guidelines for their responsible use by organizations.” (The firm has 800 lawyers in 19 offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia.)
The project will attempt to foster “public policy initiatives that promote responsible information governance necessary for the continued growth of the information economy,” the firm stated, with the goal of establishing “innovative, pragmatic approaches to privacy and information security that take into account the requirements of business processes and address the concerns of individuals about the protection of their information.”
The center, which the firm described as a “think tank,” was formed in 2001. President Martin Abrams, a nonlawyer consultant, is employed full-time by the firm; attorney Paula Bruening serves as vice president, global public policy. Abrams, who is based in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office, lives in Plano, Texas. He previously worked as vice president of information policy at Experian, most well-known for its credit reports.
The center, like the spelling of its name, has a global feel. LTN caught up with Abrams via cellphone. He said he has worked in the Big Data arena for 23 years, and these days, it has become such an international force that he’s constantly on jets heading to China, South America or Europe. A key challenge for the growing number of multinational companies is the difference between the more liberal United States laws and the more protective European requirements when dealing with data about individuals, especially when it comes to privacy, he explained.
But even within the United States, that can be a very delicate dance for companies, he said. Balancing the gold mine of information companies can gather about an individual with respecting that person’s privacy can present pragmatic and ethical dilemmas. “The primary purpose of this project is to assure that we can use information blended with the analytics to drive innovation — but do so in a manner that is respectful of individual privacy,” Abrams said. (For a fascinating example of these conundrums, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, where he discusses Target’s internal debate about whether it could use its analytics algorithms to predict that a woman was pregnant, and then send her customized flyers with items related to babies and pregnancy.)
Bruening, in the press release, elaborated: “Analytics hold dramatic potential to fuel innovation and economic growth. To realize that potential it will be necessary to address the data protection and privacy issues that the use of analytics raises. The risks to individual privacy must be solved so organizations will be able to use technologies and new sources of data for analytics robustly and with confidence. The center’s project will create the clear guidance that mitigates against the risks raised by analytics but does not impede their use.”
To accomplish these lofty goals, the project will “leverage the experience and expertise of specialists in analytics and privacy executives” from 10 or more companies, via a series of workshops, tasked to:
• “Describe the nature of analytics, its benefits to organizations, governments and individuals and its necessity for innovation and economic growth.”
• “Establish a vocabulary for analytics that is consistent with the terminology used by specialists in the field.”
• “Develop a framework for the responsible use of analytics.”
“Analytics assumes an increasingly important role across a range of disciplines, supporting such endeavors as education, scientific research, health care, demographic analysis, delivery of services to the elderly and disabled and energy conservation,” Abrams said in the press release. “It is important that we arrive at an approach for analytics that promotes the use of analytics in these disciplines, protects the individual and can be applied across a global marketplace.” •
Monica Bay is editor-in-chief of
, a Legal affiliate based in New York.