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The Man Reviewing Big Data for the President
By: Luke Willoughby
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John Podesta is as accomplished as any Washington, D.C. professional today. By appointing him to evaluate the evolving state of the digital economy, The White House places significant importance on the matter. This is the first government policy review of the big-data debate, which has produced polarized opinions between a weary public and the profit seeking, self-regulating, private industry.
Podesta became a staffer in the Clinton administration while the office oversaw, and kept distant from, the 1990s tech boom. Podesta was serving as a senior policy advisor to the telecomm and technology industry throughout this period. Clinton’s office not only promoted digital growth with a hands-off approach, but even attempted to reform government policy on information. In 1995, two years after Podesta joined his staff, Clinton passed Executive Order 12958 to remove the classification status on thousands of government documents and allow the public to know more about those in power.
But in March 2003, the same month the U.S. invaded Iraq, the Bush administration reversed this order to put stricter measures back into place. The government could more easily withhold its own information, with special notes for defense against “transnational terrorism” and granting a substantial increase in the classifying power for the Vice President, Dick Cheney.
Fast-forward to one year after Obama took office. In December 2009, the new administration returned the verbiage closer to its original form. Coincidentally, John Podesta was the Chairman of the Obama-Biden transition team during this early tenure with a voice in the President’s ear.
But only a portion of Podesta’s career has been on the government payroll. The Washington Examiner has reported on Podesta’s involvement on K Street as a "Revolving Door Lobbyist." He and his brother opened the lobbying and research firm Podesta Associates that his brother still manages; it's now called Podesta Group. Past accounts have included many technology companies interested in preserving distance from government oversight. Once such account was Digital Equipment Corporation (now a subset of Hewlett Packard) lobbying against wire-tapping freedoms of the FBI.
The Obama administration has defended the actions of the NSA in recent allegations of privacy infringement, while Congress and judges nationwide review its legality. Podesta himself, prior to returning to the White House in January 2014, was outwardly critical of the President, calling for him to appoint an investigative commission.
But the differing opinions end at the private sector. Private industries that are interested in maintaining a self-regulated pursuit of the value in our digitized information will benefit from Podesta and Obama’s ongoing, open, and free stance on information. When Podesta met with 20 marketing industry executives earlier in March, their shared perspective was evident. As reported by Adweek: "It was clear they knew the importance of the digital economy. I got the impression (Podesta) was there to help,” said Dick O’Brien, president of the 4A’s advertising council.
Podesta’s review, the first of its kind in the digital economy, is due on the President’s desk in 90 days.

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About the Author
Luke Willoughby works in the digital media landscape of New York across varying agencies and brands. He also has a background in video and content production, and is invested in the resurgence of the full-service advertising agency and the associated opportunities for the marketing industry. Originally from Denver, Colorado, he's a fan of most outdoor activities and otherwise enjoys reading and film.
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