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Obama Establishes Big Data Privacy Panel as Part of NSA Reform

Obama has asked John Podesta to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy.

Obama has asked John Podesta to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy. // Eric Jamison/AP file photo

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By Rebecca Carroll and Aliya Sternstein January 17, 2014

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President Obama on Friday announced major reforms to the National Security Agency, a response to revelations that the agency has been collecting massive amounts of data on nearly all U.S. citizens. Here's what he said about a new group he's tasked with reviewing privacy concerns in big data analysis.

I have also asked my counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy.  And this group will consist of government officials who, along with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders, and look how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors; whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data; and how we can continue to promote the free flow of information in ways that are consistent with both privacy and security.  

For ultimately, what’s at stake in this debate goes far beyond a few months of headlines, or passing tensions in our foreign policy.  When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed.  Whether it’s the ability of individuals to communicate ideas; to access information that would have once filled every great library in every country in the world; or to forge bonds with people on other sides of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals, and for institutions, and for the international order.  So while the reforms that I have announced will point us in a new direction, I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future. 

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As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control.  Having faced down the dangers of totalitarianism and fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely -- because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a major critic of NSA's tactics, welcomed the new review. EFF opposes all bulk surveillance and seeks increased judicial oversight and assurances about the security of digital tools and encryption standars. "We're hopeful that the big data and privacy review commissioned by John Podesta will address these issues," EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said.

Rebecca Carroll

Before joining Government Executive’s editing team, Rebecca Carroll wrote and edited for The Associated Press in Washington, New York and Bangkok, and for National Geographic News. She also was a Peace Corps volunteer in China, where she returned to study at the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing University Center. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, with a double major in English and Philosophy.

Aliya Sternstein

Aliya Sternstein reports on cybersecurity and homeland security systems. She’s covered technology for more than a decade at such publications as National Journal's Technology Daily, Federal Computer Week and Forbes. Before joining Government Executive, Sternstein covered agriculture and derivatives trading for Congressional Quarterly. She’s been a guest commentator on C-SPAN, MSNBC, WAMU and Federal News Radio. Sternstein is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

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