More than 350 Irish boffins have signed a white paper calling for nothing less than a “Magna Carta for Data”.
The Insight Centre for Data Analytics says it wants to “put Europe on the road to fair and relevant legislation”, but most of the language sounds like what it really wants is to water down privacy rights in favour of Big Data businesses.
“We have progressed so rapidly that the term ownership is obsolete. Does a person own all of the data they generate, for example? Or just the identifying parts of it?” the group innocently asks.
Dara Murphy, Ireland’s Data Protection Minister, spoke at the presentation of the paper in Brussels on Wednesday, saying: “In seeking to harness the power of Big Data, we must place the protection of individual privacy at the heart of everything we do.”
With thousands of jobs in Ireland dependant on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and other data slurpers, however, he is unlikely to let the flow of data to big business dry up.
Although it makes some conciliatory noises about “trust”, according to the paper “the almost exclusive focus on the privacy of the individual, while politically popular, is potentially damaging to progress.” It further dismisses public fears that “data owners may evolve into monopolies” and “lock in” or “control” citizens, saying this would undermine the benefits of data analytics.
The paper further suggests that self-censoring behaviour “by those who think they are being monitored” is a problem in the face of potentially unrealistic fears. But it does concede: “Direct harm to autonomy might occur when an autocratic (or democratic) government uses Big Data technologies to effectively root out any resistance.”
The paper asks eight questions about data ethics but is short on answers. The usual defences of health diagnoses and smart cities are trotted out alongside a surprisingly long treatise on the benefits of Monsanto’s prescriptive farming programme in California. The paper then glibly adds that “companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix are [also] collecting consumer data.”
Well, that’s OK then.
It also lauds the possible data analysis available from wearable sensors that capture “real-time data from our blood, sweat and tears”.
“Regulation of Big Data analytics will necessarily require advances in areas such as anonymisation, encryption, and security, leading to a 'privacy-by-design' approach,” says the paper. What exactly is meant by “privacy-by-design” was not defined.
Insight Ireland (a joint initiative between University College Dublin, Dublin City University and national Universities Galway and Cork) was set up in 2013 by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).
The board of SFI, which handed Insight a whopping €75m, is peppered with (former and current) representatives of big tech. Chairman Ann Riordan established Microsoft Ireland in 1990; Barry O'Sullivan is CEO of Altocloud, a software company specialising in “customer engagement” and inside sales and was formerly at CISCO; while Aidan Donnelly has “extensive experience in the establishment, development, operations and management of technology-oriented multinationals in Ireland” including Betdaq (Global Betting Exchange Ltd) and Xerox. ®