The Dilemmas of Big Data

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Martyn Thomas will speak at our first meeting in 2014 about the Dilemmas of Big Data. This is on Thursday January 16th at 6pm in Physics B lecture theatre at Aberystwyth University. There will be light refreshments from 5:30pm.

The session is free and open to all. Registration is requested to help with planning (details below). An abstract for the talk follows.


It is often said that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” but this is unthinking, ignorant and callous.

The era of anonymised data has passed and anyone claiming that data sets of detailed, personal data can be released without it being possible to identify many of the individuals concerned is either a fool or a liar.

There is no question that Big Data and data analysis can be of great benefit to society (for example for medical research, social policy and the investigation of crime) but the consequent loss of privacy could also be very damaging.

All citizens should have a say in the decisions that are taken about how their medical history and other personal data is made available to Government agencies, to researchers and to private industry. But what is the right balance between the citizen’s right to privacy and their responsibilities to help fellow citizens to live in a law-abiding, healthy and prosperous society?

IT professionals need to understand the dilemmas presented by the growth in Big Data and to consider the ethical issues that should guide their professional activities.

The Snowden revelations have ignited an arms race between the spooks and the geeks. Should it be possible to be private, even if that means that terrorists, paedophiles and other criminals have somewhere to hide? Or should we allow the Government and private industry to maintain an infrastructure of universal surveillance and trust that it will not be abused?

Everyone needs to understand the issues and the possibilities if we are to have an informed debate. What is decided in the next year or two could profoundly affect the sort of country that we and our children and grandchildren live in.

Bring your knowledge, opinions, hopes and fears and let’s examine the dilemmas and see how much progress we can make in one evening.

Martyn Thomas CBE FREng is Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Chair of the IT Policy Panel of the IET. He has been a visiting Professor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and at Oxford and Bristol Universities and a director of the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

To help with our planning, please register for the event at: The Dilemmas of Big Data registration form. If you forget to register, you can still turn up on the day and see if there is space.

A map with the location is available at Google Maps.