Big Data Legal Frameworks and the Public Good

March 6, 2014

The MIT Big Data Privacy workgroup is tackling the hard questions of business, legal and technical frameworks needed to achieve the promise of big data while avoiding the perils.  The workgroup is contributing to a national series of workshops on the issue, commenced with the MIT Big Data Privacy Workshop co-convened with the White House on March 3, 2014.  

The Emerging Science of Social Physics and A New Deal on Data

As part of this contribution to the larger national dialog, a planned set of online events to engage the issues will include MIT Media Lab Professor Sandy Pentland on the emerging science of Social Physics and the related policy framework for a New Deal on Data.  

The MIT LegalScienceSalon on March 13th, 2014 is the backdrop for multiple online sessions dedicated to the topic of Big Data and the need for a Legal Privacy Framework.  The online sessions will use a novel MIT Media Lab service currently in beta, called "Unhangout". The agenda of this event is still emerging and details are being posted as they are finalized at: . For more information on the unhangout session, please consult: 

Join the BigDataDialog on Key Nationally Organizing Questions

The site is designed to enable, catalyze and facilitate better idea flow and dialog at the national-scale on five key policy questions that are currently the subject of a national conversation.  The following questions have been posed by the White House as part of a Request for Information and are focus points of this research and engagement initiative: 

(1) What are the public policy implications of the collection, storage, analysis, and use of big data? For example, do the current U.S. policy framework and privacy proposals for protecting consumer privacy and government use of data adequately address issues raised by big data analytics?

(2) What types of uses of big data could measurably improve outcomes or productivity with further government action, funding, or research? What types of uses of big data raise the most public policy concerns? Are there specific sectors or types of uses that should receive more government and/or public attention?

(3) What technological trends or key technologies will affect the collection, storage, analysis and use of big data? Are there particularly promising technologies or new practices for safeguarding privacy while enabling effective uses of big data?

(4) How should the policy frameworks or regulations for handling big data differ between the government and the private sector? Please be specific as to the type of entity and type of use (e.g., law enforcement, government services, commercial, academic research, etc.).

(5) What issues are raised by the use of big data across jurisdictions, such as the adequacy of current international laws, regulations, or norms?

Particiapte in the BigDataDialog Process: Please participate in the BigDataDialog opportunity by sharing your ideas and being able to see the contributions of others as more and more people engage.  The intention is to afford a method and mechanism to simply, scalably and swiftly generate idea flow, iterate questions and refine solutions at a large and growing scale of participation.  Contribute your responses and ideas today and participate in what could become a better approach to the issues than would otherwise be possible.   

AND Provide Responses to the Government Request for Information: All interested persons are encouraged to submit responses to the above mentioned RFI to the government directly by the published deadline (currently March 31, 2014).   MIT does not intend to submit responses on behalf of third parties to the government.  Rather than distracting from or diminishing the laudible initiative of the White House to accept public comments, it is intended and expected that the BigDataDialog process will enhance and improve the quality and pace of public discourse on the topic.  The premise is that when you share your rough ideas on the questions soon and participating in the evolving discussion may help you to provide even better informed and more powerful replies to the government, if you choose to do so.

*** March 17, 2014 Update: See eCitizen.TV for Live Blogging of the White House public workshop on Big Data at NYU ***

The Online Engagement Events

There are a unique set of events designed to enable and promote engagement on the relevant issue as part of the upcomng book: "Privacy, Big Data, and the Public Good: Frameworks for Engagement" published by Cambridge University Press. The book is planned for release the summer of 2014. There will be online Google Hangout style events leading up to a significant in-person event hosted by NYU this spring.   The overarching goal of the book is to identify ways in which vast new sets of data on human beings can be collected, integrated, and analysed to improve evidence based decision making while protecting privacy.   Sandy Pentland and the research team of his Human Dynamics Lab have detailed for the first time in writing several key underlying concepts and methods of this approach in a chapter of this seminal and timey book.  

The online discussion sessions will culminate with an in-person event this June 16th in New York City.

A special kick-off Google Hangout is planned to take place on March 13th from 12:30 - 1:30pm EST highlighting the themes and approaches described in this upcoming book.  

More information about all events reated to this book can be found at and this page will be updated from time to time as more details are announced and other information becomes available.  The current event details follows: 

Privacy, Big Data, and the Public Good: Frameworks for Engagement 

June 16, 2014


Preview event for Privacy, Big Data, and the Public Good: Frameworks for Engagement edited by Julia Lane, Victoria Stodden, Stefan Bender, and Helen Nissenbaum; Cambridge University Press, 2014.  The event will be held at the New York Academy of Sciences; 250 Greenwich St, 40th FL; New York, NY.

Cambridge University Press has set up a website for the book here.  Registration is available here.




8:00 AM        Registration opens

8:30 AM        Welcome & Introduction.  Steve Koonin, motivation for the book.

8:45 AM        Editor’s Panel:  Julia Lane, Victoria Stodden, Stefan Bender, Helen Nissenbaum

9:15 AM        I.  Law, Ethics, & Economics of Big Data.

        Moderator: Jake Bournazian (5 min)

        Panel: Helen Nissenbaum, Kathy Strandburg, Victoria Stodden

        Q&A (35 min led by moderator, 20 min w/ audience)

        What concepts used in our traditional discussions of privacy, such as anonymity and informed consent, require updating in response to the challenges of big data? How should we now understand and assess harms from privacy violations? What established approaches to managing privacy must we rethink in the big data context?

10:15 AM        Break        

10:30 AM        II.  Practical Concerns of Working with Big Data.

        Moderator: Julia Lane (5 min)

        Panel: Bob Goerge, Peter Elias, Dazza Greenwood, Carl Landwehr

        Q&A (35 min led by moderator, 20 min w/ audience)

        Big data can also be harnessed to serve the public good: scientists can use big data to do research that improves the lives of human beings, improve government services and reduce taxpayer costs.  Does “big data” change the rules of engagement regarding privacy protection?  What are the best ways to provide access while protecting confidentiality? Are there reasonable mechanisms to compensate citizens for privacy loss?

11:30 AM        III.  Statistical framework: The Issues & Practical responses.

        Moderator: Stefan Bender (5 min)

        Panel: Frauke Kreuter, [Jerry Reiter,] John Wilbanks

        Q&A (35 min led by moderator, 20 min w/ audience)

        Since neither the data generating process nor the data collection process is well understood for big data, what can statistics tell us about how to make greatest scientific use of this data while simultaneously quantifying the extent of privacy loss? What will be needed to develop standards of transparency in the collection of data? What is needed to evaluate the quality of the linked sources? Should the fact that big data is too big to take to the users change our consideration of protection strategies?

12:30 PM        Lunch

        Capstone speaker: Theresa Pardo (25 min)

1:30 PM         Adjourn


Check back here for more information, updates on future events and other opportunities for engagement.