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Big Data

We take privacy and law to heart

The legal implications of big data are challenging. Tilburg University is a leader in researching these challenges. Because privacy really matters. And the legal context appears increasingly dated.

Photo homepage: Aina Seerden's project 'Your Digital Twin'

Some time ago a Dutch bank announced that it was going to give financial advice to customers based on their personal online banking behavior. Customers responded very negatively and felt their privacy was at stake. The bank withdrew the plan and suffered a blow to its reputation. “This example makes it clear that privacy is very important for the general public,” says Corien Prins, Professor of Law and Informatization at Tilburg University. “If governments and companies ignore this, the use of big data is doomed to fail. This would be a great loss, for big data is a promising stepping stone towards further innovation.”

Opportunities in legal frameworks

Companies realize they have to take privacy issues to heart. They then discover that laws have not been adjusted to new developments in the innovative use of data. This creates legal uncertainty and is a barrier to the use of big data. The legal aspects of big data are an important field of research at Tilburg University. Prins: “We can assist companies. We observe the legal framework with which they have to deal. At the same time we want to help by looking for solutions that do justice to the legal standards we have adopted as a society, while benefiting from the tremendous opportunities that certain big data applications can offer our society.”

Surveillance cameras and big data

An example of such a partnership is the collaboration with the police force in the city of Eindhoven. The police wanted to place surveillance cameras in an area with bars and clubs. The goal was to create a safer environment, but also to be more effective in the prosecution of public drunkenness and related violence. Tilburg University advised on the legal implications of the cameras. A PhD student is also researching the big data gathered by the cameras, with a view to what can (and cannot) be done with the information.

Correlations in court cases

Other research involves a variety of questions. What kind of data can be gathered and to what purpose? Who is the owner of big data? Who is the owner after information has been cross-linked? Who is legally responsible when things go wrong? The research also focuses on the use of big data in legal cases.

Prins: “What if all verdicts of the court in ’s-Hertogenbosch were combined in one big data file? We could then look for correlations between cases, in order to help the court with future rulings.”