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3/4/2014
01:30 PM
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Feds Grapple With Big Data Vs. Privacy

Government study focuses on how privacy-enhancing technologies and large-scale analytics will shape the future of big data.

Internet Of Things: 8 Cost-Cutting Ideas For Government
Internet Of Things: 8 Cost-Cutting Ideas For Government
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White House counselor John Podesta is leading a 90-day government study that explores the intersection of big data and privacy. According to Podesta, now is the time to take a closer look at big data analytics and other comprehensive data-mining techniques that could shape future policies.

"The study is fundamentally a scoping exercise. We want to examine the administration's consumer privacy blueprint and take a harder look at existing policies," said Podesta during a March 3 workshop on big data, organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, along with privacy and tech experts, joined Podesta on stage to discuss the importance of privacy enhancing technologies and large-scale analytics.

Experts cited using cryptography in databases and Web applications, and computing on encrypted data. Cynthia Dwork, distinguished scientist at Microsoft Research, presented another approach to safeguarding data called differential privacy, a technique used for statistical analysis of large datasets. "What's the privacy dream? That we have a database with useful but private information and we have a curator that wants to take this data and sanitize it, so data analysts can only interact with the sanitized data set," Dwork said.

[New government website offers a look at which companies are pursuing cloud security seal of approval. Read FedRAMP Cloud Security Approval: Look Who Applied.]

The workshop is the first in a series of events to be hosted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) as part of a comprehensive review of big data and privacy, which the president launched in January. The events focus on the collection, analysis, and use of big data for privacy, the economy, and public policy. Insights collected during the events will feed into the study being conducted by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Those results will be used to shape a plan of action, such as identifying future technological trends and deciding whether further government action is required.

(Image: Deviantart.com)
(Image: Deviantart.com)

The goal of the comprehensive review is to start a national conversation, said Pritzker, and to answer key questions such as: What are the principles of trust that businesses and governments must adopt? How can new technologies protect consumer data? What can be done to tackle some of the more unanticipated consequences of big data analytics?

"The value that can be generated from big data is not hypothetical. It's about creating new business models, innovation, and improvements in efficiency -- from education to healthcare," said Podesta. He named the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) program, which catalogs genomic variations associated with cancer, as an example. TCGA generates large volumes of detailed genomic data derived from human tumor specimens and combines it with newly collected or existing clinical information gathered from different patient populations.

PCAST will continue to gather insights from businesses, academia, and the public to promote the "free flow of information" in a way that doesn't threaten privacy and security, Podesta said.

Find out how a government program is putting cloud computing on the fast track to better security. Also in the Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Government: Defense CIO Teri Takai on why FedRAMP helps everyone.

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she ... View Full Bio

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Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
3/8/2014 | 10:39:28 PM
Re: If history is any indication
@Susan that's a very accurate descritption of the situation.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Ninja
3/8/2014 | 9:21:46 AM
Re: If history is any indication
Ariella, 

Yes. That distraction let's them play a double game. And everyone is happy living in the lies of distraction. So why change? Meanwhile, now with more ways of knowing how your privacy is being taken away, and with more means of distributing information there is a need for bigger distractions. 

-Susan 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
3/5/2014 | 6:34:14 PM
Citizen privacy must be a central tenet of the campaign
If good policy is formulated to protect privacy, we still need a general election and a Presidential contest in which implimentation of the policy is a central tenet. We're not there yet. But we might get there.
Ulf Mattsson
IW Pick
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Ulf Mattsson,
User Rank: Strategist
3/5/2014 | 1:28:05 PM
The right balance between privacy and data insight
I agree that the privacy dream is "That we have a database with useful but private information and we have a curator that wants to take this data and sanitize it, so data analysts can only interact with the sanitized data set", but many mistakes can be made with data sets to be used for general purposes.

I read about a few examples in the paper "Why Pseudonyms Don't Anonymize: A Computational Re-identification Analysis of Genomic Data Privacy Protection Systems" written by the Data Privacy Laboratory, School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. The conclusion was that "this work illustrates the danger of blindly adopting identity protection methods for genomic data. Future methods must account for inferences that can be leaked from the data itself and the environment into which the data is being released in order to provide guarantees of privacy. While the protection methods reviewed in this paper provide a base for future protection strategies, our analyses provide guideposts for the development of provable privacy protecting methods."

I think that separate data sets should be produced for specific purposes and that sensitive data fields should be secured to minimize the risk of data inferences. We never know where this data will eventually end up in a data breach.

Data tokenization can provide the right balance between privacy and data insight in many situations.

In some situations I've seen suggestions that services that deliver result sets to specific queries instead of exposing the raw data (from different sources) could be attractive for some use cases. This can protect the privacy of the individuals and also the privacy of the different sources of data. A great source for this approach can be found in the paper "Distributed Anonymization: Achieving Privacy for Both Data Subjects and Data Providers" written by Pawel Jurczyk and Li Xiong at Emory University, Atlanta.

Ulf Mattsson, CTO Protegrity
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
3/5/2014 | 7:11:18 AM
Re: If history is any indication
@Susan that's true. People are all too easily distracted in that way. 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Ninja
3/5/2014 | 2:06:38 AM
Re: If history is any indication
Ariella, 

Speaking of public pronoucements and history, the US government is famous for having made the public and media believe what it was more convenient for the government at the time, in many cases this is used as a distraction. The same applies now. 

-Susan  
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
3/4/2014 | 8:52:32 PM
Re: If history is any indication
@Thomas if the government want to tap your data, I believe it will, no matter what public pronoucements it makes about respecting privacy. 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
3/4/2014 | 6:31:38 PM
Re: If history is any indication
The government hasn't shown much restraint when it comes to its desire for data. Is there any reason to believe it has suddenly decided to abstain?
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
3/4/2014 | 6:26:18 PM
If history is any indication
If history is any indication, the White House has shown it's able to assemble great minds to assess and recommend approaches to tough-to-solve problems -- but that too often, the recommendations run into the realitiy of politics.  In this case, because the issues of privacy also involve how the public and private sector work together, the challenges rise exponentially.  What have any of you seen in the way of smart resources that might help the White House and John Podesta?

 
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