Data privacy is the new frontier

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 June, 2015, 11:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 June, 2015, 11:34pm

The terms Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Tobacco are used to describe major players in those industries. They denote power. On that score Big Data can now be counted on level terms, even if it is not so easily defined. In the case of Big Tobacco the term is also used pejoratively because it does harm. Time is running out for Big Data to avoid that fate.

To illustrate that point, Privacy Commissioner Allan Chiang Yam-wang recalls that Steven Spielberg's 2002 film Minority Report, in which people are arrested on the basis of data analytics before they actually commit a crime, seemed like science fiction then, but closer to reality now. He warned a conference of businessmen and overseas counterparts of a "dictatorship of data" if governments and corporations abused their power to collect massive amounts of information about people online. His concern is reflected in the privacy implications of the ease with which personal information can be gleaned about people's identities and habits from the seemingly meaningless raw data collected from every tap or click on any device connected to the internet.

Chiang said his office was yet to see malicious use of big data in Hong Kong, or brokers who compile and sell data as in the US. Existing laws on the collection, use and storage of personal data were adequate. But if this is to remain so trust and responsibility play big parts. There must be respect for the principle on which the law is based - that those collecting data should do so in a fair manner and use it for the purpose stated when collected. And individuals are responsible for knowing as much as possible about how data is collected and used.

From cyber spying to social media to data mining by government and businesses, our privacy has never been more exposed. Much attention will be focused on Chiang's advice to government on best practice, to be published in about two months. The right to privacy is one of Hong Kong's core values. If we cherish our freedoms, his work deserves critical support from every sector of the community.