As of March 1, 2013, our first annual poll of Emerging Ethical Dilemmas and Policy Issues in Science and Technology has received 502 votes from 28 different countries! This month, we're featuring the issue now in second place, "data collection and privacy."

It's not too late to vote!

Data collection and privacy

Big Data

The dizzying advances and the ubiquitous nature of communications and computers, and the astounding increases in the amount of data produced and collected in the world, have fundamentally changed the meaning of what constitutes an expectation of privacy.  To live a meaningful life in the twenty first century almost requires an individual to operate in ways which leave a distinct digital trail.  Even in the most underdeveloped countries, the cell phone is largely the primary means of communication.

Computer data mining systems and advanced statistical techniques, operating on prodigious amounts of structured data, pictures, and numerous electronic signals, are allowing unprecedented knowledge of individual preferences and behavior.  In addition, individuals freely share surprising amounts of private information - which becomes searchable and discoverable - on social media systems and commercial sites.

Unfortunately, the policies, regulations, laws and ethical codes of behavior in regard to privacy and data have lagged far behind technology development, reflecting instead twentieth-century precedent and case law.

As corporations, governments, and individuals interact in the endlessly growing digital universe, new thinking is required privacy and civil liberties and the appropriate and ethical use of Big Data.

Latest news: (updated 3/26/13)


World’s Health Data Patiently Awaits Inevitable Hack

Big Data Is Opening Doors, but Maybe Too Many

Big Data: for the greater good or invasion of privacy? 

New video games mirror debates about data privacy, hacking


Explaining Big Data (video)

Data Collection Arms Race Feeds Privacy Fears 

Privacy in the Age of Big Data 

Biometric Data-Gathering Sets Off a Privacy Debate 

Rental-Car Firm Exceeding the Privacy Limit? 


Engaging Privacy and Information Technology in a Digital Age

Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists: A Framework for Program Assessment

Social media privacy: 

"Protecting your Privacy on the New Facebook" (NY Times, Feb 2013)

"Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook," (Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality (2012) 4, Number 2, 7–41)

What your Facebook "Likes" Reveal About You (video)

(Thanks to Reilly Fellow Robert Latiff for his help in constructing this page.)

Emerging Technologies of National Security and Intelligence (ETNSI) 
A Reilly Center research initiative


ETNSI considers the recent evolution of new technologies of warfare and intelligence gathering and the ethical, legal, and policy implications of their employment. Participants include military, intelligence, and academic experts with widely varying specializations including ethics, international law, national security studies, and peace studies. 

ETNSI members reserching privacy issues:

Marina Blanton

Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Notre Dame

Marina Blanton

Research interests: Information security, privacy and applied cryptography, and in particular topics such as secure computation and outsourcing, private biometric and genomic computation, integrity of outsourced computation and storage, and privacy-preserving systems for medical and social networks

Publications: See here

Mike Chapple

Senior Director, Enterprise Support Services, University of Notre Dame
Concurrent Assistant Professor, Computer Applications, University of Notre Dame


Research interests: Information Security with an emphasis on intrusion detection and effective management of security technologies; Digital weapons in warfare among nation-states and non-state actors

Publications: See here for more information.