Friday, November 6, 2015

Big Data Big Questions Part II

Written by Stephen Kenney

In Part I of “Big Data Big Questions” we discussed Dr. Shannon Ferrell’s testimony before the House Agricultural Committee regarding agricultural big data.  Part I focused on his testimony about the existing intellectual property law and how it applies to agricultural data.  Part II will highlight the potential issues he raised concerning agricultural data collection.

Dr. Ferrell spoke of the many threats that have been realized in the disclosure of personally identifiable information (PII) to outside parties.   Some of those realized threats included the loss of credit card data in targeted hacks of Adobe Systems, Sony, Home Depot and Target among others.   These anecdotes contribute to the concern over the safety of agricultural data.   

According to Dr. Ferrell, most producers are concerned about their data being accessed when it is routed through a cellular signal to be disclosed to the service provider.  Most of the data that is sent to service providers is in the form of telematics data; raw data that has information concerning crop production and GIS information about the farm.  The first protection of this data comes in the form of the cellular signal.  Virtually all cellular signals are encrypted.  The transmitted data could only be stolen by a sophisticated hacker unless he had the decryption key.     Hackers are normally attracted to information that can easily be converted into financial value such as credit card information.  It is more difficult to convert agricultural data into financial gain quickly.   Thus systems storing agricultural data are less likely to be attacked.  Nevertheless, this data could be a more appealing target if the farmer’s vendor account information is linked to their data. 

Dr. Ferrell stated that another major concern for producers is the misuse or inadvertent disclosure of data by the recipient of the data.  One major concern would be the disclosure of that data to regulatory agencies.  There is little law on whether a government agency could simply request data from a service provider and attain it.  Another concern would be whether an opposing party in litigation or potential litigation could coax the service provider into disclosing a producer’s data, even if the disclosure is not legally required.  Dr. Ferrell concluded that, “Ultimately there are no laws defining an inherent privacy right in agricultural data.”  There are protections in place for healthcare data (HIPPA), financial data (Gramm-Leach Bliley Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act), and personal information held by the federal government (Privacy Act of 1974).  There are large categories of agricultural data that do not fall within a protected area.

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