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Privacy groups to Obama: Let the people have a say in big data reform

A coalition of 25 groups encompassing consumer rights, civil liberties and privacy groups have banded together to demand that president Obama address the privacy concerns brought about by the growing trend for big data.

The groups, which include the Center for Digital Democracy, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union, penned a joint letter to John Holdren, director of the White House office of science and technology policy.

The letter demanded that the public be given the chance to give their opinion prior to the upcoming big data review, launched by president Obama in the wake of revelations uncovered by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The review will be conducted by John Podesta, an Obama counsellor and long-time Democratic policy-maker.

The letter argues that "since it is their information that is being collected and their privacy and their future that is at stake," the public should be involved in the upcoming review.

The letter calls on the government to "conduct a review that incorporates the concerns and opinions of those whose data may be collected in bulk as a result of their engagement with technology".

The letter, delivered today, falls on an international day of protest against the spying operations of the American National Security Agency (NSA) and the British equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

Sites such as Reddit, Tumblr, Anonymous and Greenpeace have all joined in the day of protest.

The protest, "Stop the NSA Day", which asks websites to include a banner on their front page protesting the NSA's intrusions, is modelled on a similar joint action in January 2012 that helped to scupper the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.

John Podesta's review will look at aspects of data collection by the NSA and other government agencies, but will not be confined to that area, as it will also consider the activities of technology companies and how big data could be a potentially harmful force in society.