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Friday, September 07, 2012

Privacy & Technology Project Grapples with "Big Data"

UC Hastings’ Privacy and Technology Project is helping technologists and lawyers alike get their hands around “big data” and what it means for privacy rights and consumers.

The growth of “big data” presents both opportunities and challenges for U.S. businesses and consumers. It has powerful and legitimate business uses, and has the potential to make electronic transactions for consumers quicker and easier. But it also means that companies are collecting and analyzing more personally identifiable information, known as PII, than ever before. Often, consumers do not understand the privacy policies of the companies they deal with.

The Privacy and Technology Project and Bay Area Privacy Professionals hosted a seminar on big data at Bingham McCutchen in San Francisco on August 29, 2012. Technologists and lawyers in attendance heard how companies like San Francisco’s Splunk are providing powerful software to help government and businesses understand their data while at the same time keeping that data safe and ensuring compliance with privacy regulations, such as HIPPA, or EU privacy directives.

Lenny Stein, General Counsel of Splunk, said the software has enormous potential. “Companies can use Splunk to make sure their corporate data stays secure and where it belongs,” Stein said. The software can also help companies strip PII from data so that businesses can use machine or “big data” while maintaining the privacy of customers or patients.

“A significant number of U.S. government agencies run Splunk” to ensure compliance with laws such as Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, or FISMA, Stein said. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security also use Splunk software for forensic purposes. NASA used Splunk software in conjunction with the recent landing of the Mars rover, Curiosity. And hospitals have used Splunk software to ensure patients’ vital signs are taken at the appropriate intervals, Stein said.

The event was sponsored by the Privacy and Technology Project at UC Hastings, which hopes to help individuals gain more control over their personal data and information on the Web, said Charles Belle, project director. The project started Bay Area Privacy Professionals, a forum for technologists and attorneys to discuss industry standards, legislation, trends, and other topics.

Jim Snell '94, the chair of the privacy and security practice group at Bingham McCutchen, which hosted the event, said that continued discussions among attorneys and technologists about privacy issues is essential to both the development of useful technologies and the protection of privacy rights.   

The event was part of a series of programs by the Privacy and Technology Project. The first, held at Gordon & Rees, featured Moxie Marlinspike, a computer science security expert and founder of Whisper Systems, which was acquired in 2011 by Twitter. That event was hosted by Skip McGowan ’74 and Rebecca Wardell ’10.

Related Links:

  1. UC Hastings’ Privacy and Technology Project
  2. Bay Area Privacy Professionals LinkedIn Group
  3. Bingham McCutchen

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