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White House calls for more privacy laws

WASHINGTON — The White House is asking Congress to pass new privacy laws that would add more safeguards for Americans’ data and provide more protections for emails sought in the course of a law enforcement investigation.

The recommendations are among six offered by President Barack Obama’s counselor John Podesta in a report released Thursday. While large sets of data make Americans’ lives easier and can help save lives, the report noted, they also could be used to discriminate against Americans in areas such as housing and employment.

“Big data” is everywhere. It allows mapping apps to ping cellphones anonymously and determine, in real time, what roads are the most congested. It enables intelligence agencies to amass large amounts of emails and phone records to help root out terrorists. And it could be used to target economically vulnerable people.

At Obama’s request, Podesta and the president’s top economic and science advisers conducted a 90-day review of how the government and private sector use large sets of data.

Obama has called for changes to some of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs that amass large amounts of data belonging to Americans and foreigners. The technology that enabled the surveillance programs also enables other programs used by the government and the private sector, such as data on financial records, health care systems and social media.

The report’s recommendations include passing more privacy laws, doing more to protect student and consumer data, ensuring data is not used for discriminatory purposes and giving non-U.S. citizens more privacy protections.

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