SCL Event Report: SCL Privacy & DP Group on Big Data

May 11, 2017

 I was probably the only person setting off for the SCL
Privacy & DP Group meeting who didn’t realise that 30 St Mary Axe was the
Gherkin and I was childishly pleased to find myself in an iconic building. I am
not sure if the airport-style security should really have allowed me access
based on flashing a Wiltshire County Council bus pass as ID, but they let me in
anyway. Perhaps the Gherkin security Big Data is so voluminous that it includes
bus pass records and can make instant decisions to verify identity even from
such flimsy evidence. After all, Big Data is everywhere – indeed, that was
rather the point and the reason for being there.

Certainly Big Data was on everyone’s minds at the meeting
as, under the flawless guidance of the meeting’s Chair, Anita Bapat (Senior
Associate at Hunton & Williams), we moved swiftly into the meat of the issues.

Will Becker from Lexical Labs started us off with definition
of Big Data. What is Big Data to you and I – something that makes our laptop
grind to a halt – is a mere trifle to the real Big Data merchants. Think
massive and multiply it many times over. Will memorably illustrated that most
Big Data is in fact logs and information that identifies  – and differentiates one David Smith from the
6,000 other David Smiths in the UK. According to Will, what really marks out
Big Data is not the size but what you can do with it (a sentiment echoed later
by Helen Woollett in her ‘size isn’t everything’ slide later). We were taken on
a speedy journey through possible applications in a variety of contexts and the
frequent attempts to make sense of clustering and the modelling and predictions
that flowed from it.

Liam Gilchrist is a co-founder of Lexical Labs and his focus
was on the application of techniques associated with Big Data to the practice
of law. Liam feels that law firms rarely appreciate just how much data they
have and that techniques for querying Big Data can be applied to some tasks that
represent the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – due diligence and discovery being the prime
examples. But Liam thinks that even drafting (which involves a lot of
searching), pricing and regulatory compliance can benefit from these
techniques. But Liam reassured the meeting that none of this offers a threat to
lawyers, it was focused on improving efficiency and improving the service to
clients. He saw it as an exciting time to be a lawyer with a brave new world
within reach.

Helen Woollett’s talk brought the focus back closer to the
usual SCL Privacy & DP Group territory with her review of the effect of the
GDPR on Big Data. Helen’s banking regulation background and very obvious encyclopedic
knowledge of the GDPR made for a fascinating presentation that did not shy away
from the nitty-gritty. She was able to identify a number of dangers and was a
persuasive advocate of the need for speedy action from those yet to make
themselves GDPR-ready. She predicted a move away from reliance on consent,
which was especially problematic in the Big Data context, and a swing towards
the legitimate interest justification for processing.

A very animated Q & A followed, in which our Chair Anita
Bapat contributed both Q & A. I thought I detected some consternation in
Will Becker’s demeanour when the limits that might arise in using Big Data post-GDPR
were spelled out. And I very much liked the panel’s response to the question
relating to the duty to make the use of data understandable to individuals – to
paraphrase, some things are just very complicated and all you can do is put the
information out there for those capable of understanding it.

Heads reeling with all that information, the drinks, courtesy
of our generous hosts, were gratefully received.

Laurence Eastham edits Computers
& Law.

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