Big Data and Privacy – We can have both…

Big Data and Privacy – We can have both…

January 28th has been recognized around the globe as International Privacy Day, and the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner (Ontario IPC”) often hosts events that cover privacy topics of importance to the public. Last week, the Ontario IPC hosted a symposium entitled “Government and Big Data: Privacy Risks and Solutions”. Commissioner Brian Beamish kicked off the event with remarks to help us reflect on the benefits of data integration and some of the key steps for reducing privacy risks. The IPC also released a new fact sheet entitled “Big Data and Your Privacy Rights” on the day of the event, which is available to view at (archived webcast).

As stated by Commissioner Beamish, restrictions on sharing personal information to protect privacy (the ‘silo’ approach) that is assumed by Ontario’s outdated public sector laws, does not reflect the world we live in today. There is immense value in uncovering hidden patterns in large data sets with tools for combining and analyzing information that just haven’t been available in the past. As simply stated in the fact sheet, while private sector companies often use big data analyses to support marketing and product development, big data offers public institutions an evidentiary basis for improving policy and program development.

Beamish highlighted how amendments to the Ontario health sector privacy law found in the Health Information Protection Act (HIPA), which was passed in May 2016 but is not yet in force, provides a great example of building privacy controls into legislation to address big data risks. HIPA will permit the Ministry of Health to collect properly de-identified personal health information from electronic health records for the purposes of funding, planning or delivery of public health services; and detecting, monitoring or preventing fraud.

After Beamish’s thoughtful remarks, a distinguished panel discussed a number of questions relating to privacy and big data. Given that the use of big data is inevitable in today’s world, this thought-provoking event helped demonstrate that the right balance can be achieved – Enjoying the benefits of data mining without losing sight of the purpose of data analysis, and without compromising fundamental human rights when drawing conclusions from the metadata available.

To learn more about big data or review your own data analysis framework for privacy best practice, contact PRIVATECH.