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The Boston Globe



Big Data, meet Big Brother

Amid public anxiety over NSA, Obama panel goes after still more data

In the dystopian future of George Orwell’s “1984,” the government uses an endless state of war to justify food rationing by the Ministry of Plenty, rewriting history by the Ministry of Truth, and brutal interrogation by the Ministry of Love. Recently, President Obama’s Privacy Working Group — a response to the public outcry over the mass collection of telephone data — concluded that the government needed to collect and review more private data. It’s tempting to think, “you couldn’t make this up.” But, of course, Orwell imagined it in detail.

The working group’s report contains several mundane policy recommendations to update laws dealing with data, e-mail, and digital records. But the boldest stroke, and the one pushed hardest by chairman John Podesta, posits that private data collection could lead “intentionally or inadvertently — to discriminatory outcomes.” Without citing any specific case or allegation, the group calls upon federal agencies to “develop a plan for investigating” collectors and purveyors of digital information.

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