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Australian government to write big data strategy

The federal government will release a big data strategy this winter, Australian Government CIO Glenn Archer said Wednesday at an Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) summit in Canberra.

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) plans to release a big data issues paper this Friday, opening a three-week consultation period to collect feedback from industry and the public, said Archer, who replaced Ann Steward as the Australian CIO in December.

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A draft big data strategy is expected in May, followed by the final report in June or July, he said.

The strategy "will be designed to assist policy agencies as they consider big data, its tools and processes as a way of improving service delivery and also their own operational efficiency, while importantly maintaining public trust in the management and security of its data holdings," Archer said.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy spoke earlier in the day about the opportunities and challenges for government to use big data.

A cross-agency working group led by the Australian Tax Office has been established "to consider the broader issues raised by the wider use of big data," he said. The government has also set up "a government data analytics centre of excellence," he said.

Archer stressed the need for an open dialog with industry in developing the strategy.

"This is still a new and evolving area of expertise and one that we don't claim for a moment to know everything," he said. "We do expect to engage quite actively with industry and to seek [its] input with how we move forward here."

Big data creates big opportunities for government, Archer said.

"Like all large, technologically enabled organisations, Australian public service agencies collect very significant volumes ... of information" related to citizens, businesses and governments.

Big data analysis presents "enormous opportunities for government to improve the way in which we deliver services to citizens and to businesses," and "to make better targeted use of the limited resources we have in government today," he said.

Big data can also be used in development of new policy to build better policy options for government and ministers to consider, he added.

The federal government will take a close look at how to maintain protect the public's privacy as it develops the big data strategy, Archer said. "The Australian government is committed to protecting the privacy rights of the public."

The CIO provided a few examples of big data uses that could raise privacy concerns.

"Big data analytics projects may wish to use data collected previously for one specific purpose at a later point for a different purpose," he said.

"We need to make sure that we've got some form of informed consent already in place that allows us to do that through some sort of opt-in approach."

Meanwhile, analysis of publicly available data set - including unstructured sets from Facebook, Twitter and blogs - could assist government, he said. However, government must "use it within the structures of the Privacy Act" and other laws.

"What happens for instance when a government agency accesses a data set from another agency and that other agency has placed that data set in the public domain?"

Mashing up the two agencies data "will very likely give you some additional insights, but it may raise some concerns in the minds of citizens" that it may not be "an appropriate use of that public data."

"We know that this could be a problem, and we need to make sure that agencies think about it and how best to manage this risk."

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