A place to convene. A place to discuss. A place for ideas.

Georgetown Law Library Hosts Day of Big Data

By Ideas Lab Staff February 1, 2013

The Georgetown Law Library, in celebration of its 125 years, held a symposium on “Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information."

Panelists representing academic, government and legal communities discussed a range of “big data” topics Wednesday at the Georgetown Law Library symposium.

During some panels, speakers touched on the definition of “big data” and how consumers, agencies, government and others collect, use and send large-scale sets of information. “The size of data sets is not the key to big data issues,” a news release about the event stated. “Rather, it’s the changes in society that are growing along with our ability to discover meaning by connecting points of information electronically, across numerous, vast, and often unrelated stores of data.”

On Data Sources

During the first panel, “Privacy Risks and Public Benefits of Big Data,” the discussion explored the benefits as well as the risks of sharing and using big data.

Leslie Johnston, of the Library of Congress, said challenges arise when people seek new and unique and newly relevant uses of collections. “Everything we have is data, and almost everything can be mined in one way or another,” she said.

The Library of Congress has been archiving almost everything on the web since 2000 but must consider the privacy and rights issues attached to some materials with copyright registrations.

Paul Ohm, a professor and policy advisor for the Federal Trade Commission, said “more people are doing more with data to learn about the world than ever before” and that we all have sensitive information held about us by various entities. During his talk he offered a few personal opinions on big data regulation, including that he thinks there should be more regulations to make companies more aware about what they collect and use.

Using Big Data

Spiros Dimolitsas, senior vice president for research and the chief technology officer at Georgetown University, discussed the Global Insights Initiative during a keynote speech at the symposium. The initiative, a partnership between the university, corporations and other organizations, aims to create and manipulate models for both predictive and discovery analysis.

Management of big data can bring new information to people that was originally too expensive or laborious to gather themselves. The use of big data, for example, can make surveys obsolete in some cases. “Complex challenges, even when they are local, typically have global connections,” he said.

Big Data Applications in Scholarship and Policy

Practical uses of “big data” were explained in a panel on applications in scholarship and policy. Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the nonpartisan Georgetown Climate Center, said a lot of the center’s work is centered on getting data and translating data into practical use. One  example, she said, is the center’s work on examining the impact of sea level rise and translating that data-driven information into decision-making.

According to its website, the center works with government officials, academics and other stakeholders to strengthen state and federal climate partnerships and to analyze provisions of federal policy relevant to states and territories. The center then encourages policymakers to learn from and adopt innovative policies emerging from the states, the website states.

Read more about the symposium and view the three panels and keynote speech at the law library’s website.