Another relatively new book crossed my desk a few weeks ago, Privacy, Big Data, and the Public Good. One of the chapters on “Using Statistics to Protect Privacy” caught my eye. After taking a look it made me at least skim the entire book.
Why should you care about this book or about statistics at all. You’ll probably care because litigation statistics, statistics about Bar associations, or statistics about crime or criminal justice could all play a part in your legal career, and in some cases, probably already have. You might wonder where you can find those statistics and might also ask yourself “who collects these?” This book sets out a framework that answers those questions and tries to answer some of the ethical and legal questions surrounding current data collection and data aggregation practices.
Why would I or should I care about this book? I care because I’m interested in statistics about law schools and the ways statistics are manipulated to work for or against students thinking about entering the legal profession. I’m also interested because of the empirical research some of Barry’s best and brightest professors are relying on to write that next book or article. I want to be sure that your library is sending them to data sets that haven’t breached your privacy or that of others in society so that they can rely on that information as being an ethical and reliable resource for that paper or book. And, although you may not realize it yet, statistics about the privacy of your information have affected you since birth.
I’m a big fan of Professor Daniel Solove’s books about information privacy. He discusses a person’s digital identity and how it has grown since they were born – like it or not. I read The Digital Person not long after this professor wrote it in 2004. His well-reasoned arguments about why we as a society should be interested in the ways big business and the government were soliciting and collecting information about our digital identities, piece by piece, and day by day without a legal framework in place was frightening. The fact that he put all of his readers on notice that a framework was needed soon to protect the average person from big business, and from themselves in some cases, resonated with me. After reading The Digital Person, I assumed that some legal solution would be fashioned quickly to protect us from unethical data collection practices meant to harm society. I’ve waited ten years to hear about such a solution and have read many articles about the topic, and there is still no legal solution to be found.
Perhaps after reading this current work and delving into the research on privacy and how statistics can help, one of you will legislate or draft regulations to help the public good. I, for one, certainly hope so.