Kent Wada, UCLA chief privacy officer and director of strategic IT policy, and professor Christine Borgman, Presidential Chair in information studies at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, have been named co-chairs of a newly created data governance task force. The joint Academic Senate-UCLA administration task force was created in response to UCLA’s stewardship of, and an increasing demand for the use of, extensive data about UCLA students, faculty, staff, alumni, patients, research subjects, donors and volunteers.

The task force is charged with recommending a campus governance mechanism by which new, potentially risky uses of data about the UCLA community can be holistically considered.

Big data has many potential benefits, from improving public health to addressing  challenges like climate change, poverty and crime. But data always needs to be properly secured, noted Wada. Data about individuals – from Social Security numbers to health information – must be surrounded by the appropriate privacy controls. “So the task force is focusing on how the campus considers new uses of these data that have potentially negative consequences.

In addition to posing a threat to individual privacy, big data can also be contaminated or misinterpreted, leading to decisions that negatively affect people’s personal lives.

Said Wada, “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What benefit is there to our community? What are the risks? Is the use consistent with the values of the institution?’ And even, ‘Is it creepy?’ The question we need to answer is not ‘Can we?’ but ‘Should we?’”

Borgman noted that "you can find very different opinions and sets of ethics on both sides. It is important to get everyone in the same room to come up with something we can all live with.” In their first meeting, the task force articulated many of the data-related issues facing the campus, including information security, privacy, appropriate data use and third-party partnerships.

The task force is charged with providing recommendations for campus data governance back to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh and Academic Senate chair Joel Aberbach. In concrete terms, it will recommend a governance structure that can consider new data use issues and will create a set of principles that can help guide the decision-making process.

Read the complete story at the UCLA Institute for Digital Research and Education.