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Are You Ready for the Data New Deal?

data new deal

It’s pretty hard to listen to anything about climate change, at least in the United States, and not hear something about the Green New Deal. Popularized most recently by progressive democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, thinkers and politicians have been advancing some form of a Green New Deal for decades. Jill Stein set a version of the Green New Deal as her cornerstone platform piece when she ran for president in 2012 and 2016, and credits Howie Hawkins’ 2010 New York State governor’s run with the idea.

Regardless of who came up with the idea in the first place, it seems to have caught the attention of the American populace. Perhaps it’s our historical moment. Perhaps the mainstream now feels the urgency of climate change and global warming. Or perhaps it’s some desire to solve more than one problem at once. Whatever the reason for their current ubiquity, the Deals have the mic right now, and they don’t seem likely to give it up soon.

Most of the Green New Deal proposals share common goals—things like driving down greenhouse gas emissions to net zero; creating a huge number of good, high-paying jobs; improving and modernizing infrastructure and industry; and perhaps most obviously, protecting the environment and its natural resources for us and future generations. And while the particulars of how to achieve these goals vary, they seem to share, more or less, these core principles.

The Green New Deal As Inspiration for a Data New Deal

In the world of privacy, we could stand to learn a thing or two from our friends using the power of big ideas, grass roots organizing and legislation to fight climate change. Just as you could argue that our warming climate and widening gap between rich and poor demand a Green New Deal, our current data landscape calls for a Data New Deal.

For starters, climate change and the current data environment have similar origins, in a sense. After all, they’re both man-made. Not only that, but a lot of our climate woes arguably stem from lack of adequate regulation. Without smart regulation on key pollutants in industry, humans have had an outsized impact on climate trends. In the world of data, the libertarian-inspired idea that “data wants to be free” has led to a kind of wild west on the data frontier—a frontier that is certain it can regulate itself. But when technology outpace our ability to regulate it, a “no rules are good rules” ethos doesn’t always work, particularly when it comes to personal data.

The Green New Deal and a Data New Deal also share a similar spirit. Both New Deals are largely aspirational. The Green New Deal is a broad plan—intentionally so to bring a large number of stakeholders from complex systems with competing needs and priorities together to find alignment. But it is one that still requires more details to be practically implemented. It shoots for net zero emissions, and improved industry, and a protected environment, but it doesn’t lay out exactly how to get there. A Data New Deal would benefit from a similarly broad framework – based on principles around which a diverse group of stakeholders—government, industry, non-profits, and private individuals—can rally.

Like the Green New Deal, a Data New Deal should allow for innovation and be practical and solution-oriented, not mired in the many ways things can and do go wrong. It needs to include incentives to protect data privacy and security, as well as clear policies around the ethical use of data. It also needs an educational component to teach consumers about current privacy issues, so that they have the knowledge and mindfulness necessary to make informed decisions.

In the absence of a federal law, a number of states are working to advance consumer privacy protections. Several states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York are considering broad new privacy bills. And in 2018, California, a leader in privacy as it has been in the fight against climate change, passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)—the most comprehensive privacy law in the country to date.

A final thing the Data New Deal shares with the Green New Deal is timing. Just as the doomsday climate scenarios in the media become harder to avoid, so do alerts about data breaches and misuse of data. We have reached a tipping point, it seems, for greater accountability and customer awareness and control. A Data New Deal, like the Green New Deal, seeks to fix systemic problems by facing them head on in the now.

“The chance to do it all over again is now.” J.R. Rim

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