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Safeguarding rights in the big data revolution (WP1478)


Reliance on technology has resulted in a data explosion. As individuals, we create and release data about ourselves and our activities every minute of every day. Sources of data continue to grow in variety and complexity. Experts estimate that 90% of all the data in the world was created in the last 2 years. There are many societal benefits of collecting and analysing the wide range of data available, such as better insights in scientific and medical research, energy consumption and automobile safety. Data is not always personal or connected to an individual, but there is no doubting the value of data relating to human behaviour. Data is the new currency, collected and traded, and is a huge economic driver for industry. Due to the scale and different kinds of data being generated, implementing safeguards for privacy and other rights has become more challenging. This issue does not solely affect ICT companies. In the near future, every company will be an ICT company to some extent, with increasing reliance on internet-enabled products and services.

This meeting provided an opportunity to explore ways in which to ensure the potential benefits of big data are fully realised. For example, a platform for global leadership could enable mechanisms to promote and amplify ways in which to tackle challenges and to call for collective action embedding safeguards in the collection, storage, sharing and analysis of personal data.

Through a mix of plenary and break out discussion, the off the record roundtable meeting brought together around 55 stakeholders including government, business and civil society from a range of countries in order to:

  • Explore the opportunities and risks of big data in the ICT sector and beyond.
  • Examine current regulatory regimes, including informed consent to understand the implications of big data with regard to respecting rights.
  • Identify current best practice by companies across sectors with regards to respecting privacy.

The proposed outcomes of the meeting included:

  • Further understanding of the practical steps companies can take to ensure rights are respected in the collection, processing, storing and sharing of big data.
  • Explore the prospect of establishing a multi-stakeholder, cross-sector leadership platform of business leaders, civil society, academia and experts with a commitment to privacy protection, increasing transparency and accountability and providing a focal point for discussion and action.
  • A roadmap to creating a set of rights based principles, embedding privacy considerations into company practice when collecting, storing and sharing data, towards increased transparency and trust.

Additional information

IHRB news piece 


We asked a selection of our participants what the one thing is that needs to change to ensure a rights based approach to big data. Here’s what they had to say.

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