Thursday, May 24, 2018
More Warnings That De-Identification May Not Be As Effective As Hoped. Danger Will Robinson, Danger
This appeared last week:
By Stephen Easton • 15/05/2018
Victorian privacy commissioner Rachel Dixon has commissioned critical advice for public servants from three Melbourne academics who have worked hard to raise awareness of the risk that individuals can be re-identified from open data publications.
Not so long ago, few public servants questioned the received wisdom that large sets of data about individuals were safe to release as long as enough personal information was removed. That has all changed in recent years, thanks largely to the work of Dr Vanessa Teague, Dr Chris Culnane and Dr Benjamin Rubinstein.
Their work has led to a ruling against the Department of Health, which agreed to an enforceable undertaking after the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner found it had breached the Privacy Act earlier this year, but did not leave any individual citizen’s identity “reasonably identifiable” for the purposes of the federal act (which is similar in this regard to state privacy laws).
In his last ruling before retiring, former federal privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim decided the re-identification of patient data did not count as a breach because it required significant technical skills to accomplish.
“While there is some risk of re-identification of patients by a sufficiently informed and skilled person, this risk is extremely low,” he concluded in the investigation report. “Further, in the event that a possible match between a known person and a patient in the dataset occurs, it would be extremely difficult to confirm whether the match is correct.”
Teague, who didn’t think that ruling went far enough, has previously debated the risk-based approaches used to de-identification with other experts and essentially argued that datasets based on records of individuals — anonymised or not — are best kept in controlled environments, not released out into the wild on a site like data.gov.au.
Writing under the letterhead of their local state privacy authority this month, the three academics warn that it’s not well-intentioned experts like themselves that organisations need to worry about, when they jump aboard the open-data bandwagon.
“Most published re-identifications are performed by journalists or academics. Is this because they are the only people who are doing re-identification, or because they are the kind of people who tend to publish what they learn?
Vastly more discussion here:
I think what this contribution does is make it clear that great care and SKILL is needed if the Government is going to pursue these open data policies. There really needs to be a seriously precautionary approach taken to all this.
I suspect if there is one more serious issue the public will simply say enough is enough and withdraw the social license for such activities.
Posted by Dr David G More MB PhD at Thursday, May 24, 2018