The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has set out how big data can – and must – operate within data protection law.
The regulator’s latest report outlines that operating within the law should not be seen as a barrier to innovation.
Big data is a way of analysing data that typically uses massive datasets, brings together data from different sources and can analyse the data in real time. It often uses personal data, be that looking at broad trends in aggregated sets of data or creating detailed profiles in relation to individuals (for example, around lending or insurance decisions).
The ICO’s report sets out how the law applies when big data uses personal information. It details which aspects of the law organisations need to particularly consider, and highlights that organisations can stay the right side of the law and still innovate.
Buzz around big data
Announcing the publication of the report Steve Wood, the ICO’s head of policy delivery, said: “There is a buzz around big data and emerging evidence of its economic and social benefits. However, we’ve seen a lot of organisations who are raising questions about how they can innovate to find these benefits and still comply with the law. Individuals are also showing they’re concerned about how their data is being used and shared in big data-type scenarios.”
Wood continued: “What we’re saying in this report is that many of the challenges of compliance can be overcome by companies being open about what they’re doing. Organisations need to think of innovative ways to tell customers what they want to do and what they’re hoping to achieve. Not only does that go a long way towards complying with the law, but there are also benefits from being seen as responsible custodians of data.”
The report addresses concerns raised by some commentators that current data protection law doesn’t fit with big data.
“Big data can work within the established data protection principles,” said Wood. “The basic data protection principles already established in UK and EU law are flexible enough to cover big data. Applying those principles involves asking all the questions that anyone undertaking big data ought to be asking. Big data is not a game that is played by different rules. The principles are still fit for purpose, but organisations need to innovate when applying them.”