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Building Ethics into Privacy Frameworks for Big Data and AI: A Report from UN Global Pulse and IAPP

Mila Romanoff, Privacy Officer, UN Global Pulse and Omer Tene, VP, IAPP
Oct 23, 2018

The “Building Ethics into Privacy Frameworks for Big Data and AI” report was released at the 2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels, Belgium. The report is a collaboration between the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) and UN Global Pulse.

This week, privacy and data protection commissioners from more than 100 countries gathered for the 40th annual International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners. The debate focused on digital ethics, including topics that might exceed the traditional remit of privacy professionals. For example, how can we ensure due and equitable process in an age where machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) make decisions about road safety, healthcare and education? How can organizations ensure access to individuals’ data for socially beneficial purposes without sacrificing privacy and individual rights? How can societies protect against the threat of malevolent meddling in democratic elections through social media tampering?

Facing these issues and challenges, privacy regulators and other data professionals realize that answers lie beyond the regional and national data protection regulations and frameworks and require extension of ethical principles and institutions. 

The Building Ethics into Privacy Frameworks for Big Data and AI” report provides an overview of how organizations can operationalize data ethics. It draws on the discussions of an event organized by the two organizations, as well as additional research about data ethics and international privacy best practices.

The Building a Strong Data Privacy and Ethics Program: From Theory to Practice event took place in May 2017 and gathered representatives from international organizations, privacy regulators, academics, NGOs, and business leaders to learn about, discuss and identify data privacy, protection and ethics best practices for using big data for the public good.

The participation of stakeholders from different sectors presented an opportunity to discuss how big data analytics can be a resource for humanitarian and development aid, where insights can be used to predict the spread of disease, or prioritize resource allocation, or target relief to the most vulnerable populations.  

At the opening of the event, Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of UN Global Pulse, noted that ethical decision-making requires minimizing not only the risk of data misuse but also that of missed use, that is, of leaving crucial data resources untapped in the global fight against famine, plague and war. “As global efforts to develop new frameworks around the responsible use of emerging technologies begin to take shape, it is imperative that they address not only the human rights implications of ‘misuse,’ but also those of ‘missed use,’ he said.”

The report also discusses requirements and challenges with acquiring data access for scientific research, and how this could be done with due regard and protection of privacy. 

It outlines a number of tools and methodologies, including data protection and ethical impact assessments, that practitioners can use to ensure the responsible sharing and development of big data applications. Other recommendations include: setting up Administrative Data Research Facilities (ADRFs) to store and regulate access to already- existing data sets; developing Internal review boards (IRBs) to vet requests for data access through ethical principles; or establishing external advisory boards or groups.

Moreover, promising new technologies increasingly enable the processing of data to draw valuable conclusions while minimizing the effects on individuals’ privacy.  Using homomorphic encryption, organizations could conduct analysis on and draw lessons from data in encrypted form.

This report aims to serve as a basis for public-private sector collaborations to use big data and analytics for the social good, while ensuring individuals’ privacies and rights. It hopes to add to the discussion in Brussels, which under the leadership of the European Data Protection Supervisor, extends beyond traditional privacy mores and into the fascinating normative debates that will govern our embrace of new technologies for years to come.  

Donwload the report here