Mozilla’s submission to Obama Admin on Big Data

Mozilla submitted the following comments to the U.S. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in response to its request for information on “big data.”

Here’s the PDF version: Mozilla Big Data Filing 033114

OSTP is studying how big data will “affect the way we live and work; the relationship between government and citizens; and how public and private sectors can spur innovation and maximize the opportunities and free flow of this information while minimizing the risks to privacy.”

Overall, we called on the White House to establish a long time-horizon and continue to talk to a broad audience about these issues, but to stay focused on surveillance reform in the short term.

More particularly, our comments raised three main themes responsive to the questions articulated by OSTP:

  1. First, the broad multi-stakeholder community working on, and with, big data are very early in the process of understanding how everything works, including how to apply the norms developed for an earlier data and privacy world, and where both fuzzy and bright lines should be drawn around data handling practices that support innovation and growth, on the one hand, while preserving user control and driving public benefits.
  2. Second, we must tackle head-on the heightened sensitivities and trust risks associated with government access to personal data, or we will not have a strong, internally cohesive, collaborative community to tackle these issues.
  3. Finally, we should think “big.” Big data presents big problems, but there are also big opportunities, and we should embrace them, not disregard ambitious or long-term solutions.

We didn’t get into questions about the scope of big data, or difficult questions about when/under what circumstances collection and exchange of big data in practice generates harm that outweighs any benefits. Although there’s value in both of these substantive directions, this docket isn’t the ideal forum for making those arguments.

We’ll continue to develop and discuss our position on big data and we welcome your input. Also, you can go to the White House site online and fill out a quick survey to share your views on the topic.