Victorian privacy commissioner takes on special UN role

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Victorian privacy commissioner takes on special UN role

Investigating big data for the General Assembly.

Victoria’s privacy commissioner David Watts has been selected to lead a global study on big data and open data that will culminate in a paper presented to the UN General Assembly in October next year.

Watts has been invited by the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joe Cannataci, to lead his big data information gathering project, one of seven investigations launched under Cannataci’s UN mandate.

Watts will head the big data and open data research in parallel with his duties leading the recently restructured Office of the Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection in Victoria.

Speaking from New York, where he is in meetings to set out the key areas of inquiry for the October paper, Watts told iTnews he was both “excited and terrified” by the special responsibility conferred on him.

But he also called it a great opportunity for Victoria - and Australia - to be in touch with “up-to-the-minute and cutting edge ideas and approaches to big data”.

The report will seek to bed down a globally recognised definition of big data, plus a list of its benefits, risks, and the kinds management frameworks that could be endorsed as best practice on the international stage.

“We are considering issues like: what risks does big data pose? Is de-identification a viable option for protecting privacy? How should we use privacy enhancing technology like digital ledgers, the semantic web, and how do you integrate data protection issues with other priorities?” Watts said.

“We want to listen and get as much input as possible to produce this paper.”

The team will report back to the UN General Assembly - the central forum of all 193 UN member states - on how big data is being used across law enforcement, national security, health and even emerging smart cities, and its international human rights implications, at its October 2017 meeting.

Cannataci has also flagged online businesses, the proportionality of surveillance and security measures, genetics, biometrics, and preserving dignity and reputation as other avenues for research to be presented to the UN.

Watts has been Victoria’s Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection since 2014, and prior to that served as the state’s Commissioner for Law Enforcement Data Security.

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