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Big Data Versus the Long Arm of the Law: Examining the Legal Ramifications of Big Data

Wisely, most companies today either have big data initiatives underway or plan to in the near future. This assures that these companies will remain competitive in the years to come. But any company involved in storing, processing, analyzing, and making decisions based upon big data needs to be aware of the legal ramifications — both now and in the future.

Legislation moves slowly, while the pace of technology is difficult to keep up with, even if you’re in the business. Lawmakers (not just in the U.S., but around the globe) have yet to fully understand the potential for big data, let alone decide on how to regulate it and its use.

Some countries, especially a few in Europe, have taken a strict stance on maintaining individual privacy and don’t allow their companies to store big data on consumers outside their borders. Other countries (namely, countries with generally poor human rights policies) have few or no privacy laws, and storing data here is risky, both for your company and for the people on whom you hold data sets. As with most important issues of our times, U.S. lawmakers are locked in endless battles and send baffling mixed messages with their policies.

What does your business need to consider regarding the legal issues involved with using big data?

The Issue of Data Ownership and Individual Privacy

It’s clear when you own a building or a computer. You have a title, receipt, or deed. Big data ownership, however, is a different legal matter.

Most property (buildings, vehicles, machinery, hardware, and software) comes with clear-cut ownership rights. Basically, if you make it or buy it, it’s yours. Big data is a different phenomenon. As of yet, there is no true legal definition or criteria by which the ownership of big data can be definitively established. What does this mean for you?

It means you’ll need to stay abreast of legal policies and court rulings that will inevitably determine how big data ownership is defined and assigned. A good policy to establish now, to avoid problems in the future, is to be aware of where your cloud storage resides physically. In this arena, those using mainframe Hadoop operations might have a competitive edge, since they don’t have to worry about where their cloud provider houses their data.

For the rest, it’s probably a good idea to stick with cloud providers in the U.S. and Europe, where laws exist to govern and protect intellectual property rights, personal privacy, and other interests surrounding big data.

Over the next few years, look for laws and court decisions which make it clear how companies will be held legally responsible for their big data. This will answer:

  • How do different countries view and rule on big data privacy issues?
  • Who holds the rights to foreign data that is needed for litigation in another country?
  • How can governments and organizations in one country get access to big data kept on foreign soil?
  • How are lawmakers defining big data ownership?
  • How are licensing issues being handled in regards to buying and selling big data?
  • How are lawmakers and courts viewing access to public sector information?

The Issue of Responsibility to Act on Predictive Analysis

Your data indicated the levee would not hold. It didn’t. Are you liable for not acting in response to your data?

The data that you have is one issue. What you can, should, should not, might, and could do with it is entirely another. For example, are companies responsible to act upon information discovered during predictive analysis? Should they be liable for preventing bad things from happening, just because they predicted it?

What if your company discovers an impending financial disaster? What if an organization is able to predict a serious accident, involving lives and/or property damage? If a company predicts an accident or deliberate act of destruction, are they legally responsible for acting to prevent it?

Of course, most of these questions don’t yet have answers. If you think the data integration process at your workplace is moving slowly, you haven’t seen the creepy crawly response of most governments on the issues of big data. For now, smart companies are simply keeping track of where their data is stored, who has access to it, and what can be done to protect it. Just keep your finger on the pulse of the long arm of the law, so you can act quickly when lawmakers finally decide to act.

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