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More big data and more big ethics

24 February 2016

Recently two UK reports were published focusing on the growing concerns around the legal and ethical aspects of big data analytics.

We have reported in the past on the work of the Federal Trade Commission and the United Nations and the European Data Protection Supervisor in this area and now we focus on a report from the Royal Statistical Society entitled “The Opportunities and Ethics of Big Data” and also the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report entitled “The Big Data Dilemma” which was published in February 2016.

Both reports highlight the positive uses that can be made from Big Data Projects but also highlight that the value of Big Data is only as good as the quality of big analytics. Furthermore the reports also illustrate that the value of big analytics is very much dependent upon the legal, regulatory and ethical infrastructures within which the analytics are carried out and then interpreted.

As the European Data Protection Supervisor has in the past called for the creation of an Ethics Committee (which we believe is in place) to advise on the moral and ethical uses of big data, so the reports of the Royal Statistical Society and the House of Commons also call for the need for an Ethics Council.

Over the past few years I have spoken at a number of public conferences and published articles where I have summarised the concerns around ethics in relation to big data by using the phrase “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. In other words just because there are huge opportunities to mine databases, combine data sets and use algorithms to deduce statistical results doesn’t mean that you should carry out such activities nor rely on the outcomes of the same processes.

There is no doubt that within the right legal, regulatory and ethical frameworks, big data can produce huge benefits to society as a whole in relation to big data projects but we need to join together big data with big analytics, big ethics and big guidance.

We are proud to be active participants in the work of the Tech UK Big Data and Analytics Council and to have also contributed to the work of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in relation to their big data research.

This article was written by Robert Bond. For more information please contact Robert on +44 (0)20 7427 6660 or at robert.bond@crsblaw.com