Crowd-Sourced Solutions for Protecting Privacy and Confidentiality with Big Data

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This post is part of a special series of blogs inspired by NLC’s annual Congress of Cities and related events such as the National Summit on Your City’s Families.

In the Municipal Integrated Data Systems session at the Your City’s Family Summit this week, several practical suggestions for how cities can work through Big Data privacy and confidentiality issues emerged in the audience discussions (note: these comments were crowd-sourced from the floor and do not represent official policies of the National League of Cities).

• Leaders can set the tone of discussion upfront. Michael Bloomberg, for example, was famous for saying to his staff and committees: “Do NOT come out of the room telling me ‘no’. Tell me instead ‘here’s how you can do it’.”

• Be aware that the instinctive recommendation of attorneys reviewing such data and confidentiality issues for the first time is ‘don’t do anything,’ because doing nothing is always more defensible and less risky than doing something.

• Talk to other cities that have already done what you are thinking of doing. The demonstration effect will help calm the jitters about doing it at home.

• Have the default be “opt out” rather than “opt in” systems when dealing with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) information. FERPA allows sharing of basic directory information, but the individual can allow their other information to be released.

• Focus on explaining how sharing this information would better serve taxpayers.

• Break down the mistrust that the information will be used to favor one system over another. Many “close holds” exist because an agency is hesitant to reveal how much money is being spent. Explain the need to work together to improve things, not just do “gotcha” exercises.