#CyberFLASH: Opinion: Big Data, surveillance and Privacy 2.0 after Snowden – Is B.C. on the right track?

sweden-rights-espionage-diplomacy-computers-filesEdward Snowden’s analysis of the largest leak yet — the Panama papers — did what Shane Pointe of the Musqueam Nation intended: lift up the heart and minds of very brave truthtellers. While Snowden’s public conversation terrified many, he also pointed the way to hope in the era of Big Data and the Internet of Things.

When talking about Big Data and Surveillance, focus on the information and knowledge that comes from the data, and the power matrix in which that unfolds. That is the real message from the Snowden event held in Vancouver last Tuesday. Value can be positive or negative: information, knowledge and understanding can be used for good or bad purposes. To make Big Data constructive, we need more than just the technological advances and industrial developments — the key component is keeping sight of the rights to human privacy and personal security.

Advances in Big Data offer huge potential benefits and risks when we bring different data resources together. New machine learning algorithms with massive computational resources are incredible, but they need to be mediated by people who know how to ethically use the new technology and how to derive value from it — and who, as Snowden says, know when to blow the whistle when the public interest is abused.

B.C. is at the forefront of this Big Data wave. At SFU, we have a competitive advantage with our Big Data and Data Science training programs, plus we work with other institutions on other research and training initiatives such as those provided by the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics. The Metro Vancouver corporate sector is equally invested. A growing number of companies located in B.C. such as Tableau, Amazon, Global Relay, Phemi, SImba, and Splunk provide cutting edge Big Data-related products and services.

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