What eDiscovery lessons can be learned from the NSA controversy?

Alright so, by now, you’ve likely heard literally hours’ worth of discussions related to the National Security Agency’s surveillance program. And while there is no doubt that the opinions all seem to be united, yes, even those of Fox News and CBS – that’s right, I said it – there are some lessons to be learned from this major news story when it comes to data management, information governance and electronic discovery.
So far, it has become clear that the NSA has effectively thwarted more privacy protections than NASA has discovered stars in the galaxy. The debate has been hot-headed for the most part, as some groups believe that safety from would-be terrorists far outweighs the liberties we as Americans want to believe we still enjoy, while others simply feel it is in direct opposition to the Fourth Amendment.

What I say, though, is could there be a grey area here? We won’t get too political, but let’s review some data management lessons learned.

Ever heard of big data?

Big data is one of the most pervasive and complex trends to effect the enterprise and public sector landscapes in years. This strategy involves the collection and analysis of massive volumes of information, while the associated analytics tools will provide decision-makers with actionable insights for a variety of corporate strategies, such as marketing and operational efficiency.
However, several government agencies, including the NSA, have recognized the value of these tools and methods with respect to the matter of national security and the war on terror. And, as information is now largely stored in digital environments, including cloud computing storage facilities, it is far more accessible than in the past.
Since its inception, big data has caused a variety of debates in the IT community, yes, even before the national NSA news story hit the presses. What many experts agreed was that this technology and methodology would continue to be refined until the user can successfully balance breadth and accuracy, all the while maintaining privacy controls. Randomization of user information and personally identifying characteristics would keep each person’s information safe.

What has yet to be revealed by the investigation is if this was adhered to by the NSA, or if the agency launched the strategy before being able to assure privacy.

What this means to businesses

Now, while an eDiscovery proceeding is not likely going to involve a big data-driven investigation, this is a beautiful illustration of the silent threats no information is immune to. Enterprises store more information today than ever before, and the vast majority is now in digital environments. Strong data management protocols, rich with security, privacy protection and general governance statutes can keep critical information secure from even the savviest hackers or, in some cases, surveillance systems.