Federated Learning for Privacy-Preserving Data Access


Paper by Małgorzata Śmietanka, Hirsh Pithadia and Philip Treleaven: “Federated learning is a pioneering privacy-preserving data technology and also a new machine learning model trained on distributed data sets.

Companies collect huge amounts of historic and real-time data to drive their business and collaborate with other organisations. However, data privacy is becoming increasingly important because of regulations (e.g. EU GDPR) and the need to protect their sensitive and personal data. Companies need to manage data access: firstly within their organizations (so they can control staff access), and secondly protecting raw data when collaborating with third parties. What is more, companies are increasingly looking to ‘monetize’ the data they’ve collected. However, under new legislations, utilising data by different organization is becoming increasingly difficult (Yu, 2016).

Federated learning pioneered by Google is the emerging privacy- preserving data technology and also a new class of distributed machine learning models. This paper discusses federated learning as a solution for privacy-preserving data access and distributed machine learning applied to distributed data sets. It also presents a privacy-preserving federated learning infrastructure….(More)”.

Not fit for Purpose: A critical analysis of the ‘Five Safes’


Paper by Chris Culnane, Benjamin I. P. Rubinstein, and David Watts: “Adopted by government agencies in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK as policy instrument or as embodied into legislation, the ‘Five Safes’ framework aims to manage risks of releasing data derived from personal information. Despite its popularity, the Five Safes has undergone little legal or technical critical analysis. We argue that the Fives Safes is fundamentally flawed: from being disconnected from existing legal protections and appropriation of notions of safety without providing any means to prefer strong technical measures, to viewing disclosure risk as static through time and not requiring repeat assessment. The Five Safes provides little confidence that resulting data sharing is performed using ‘safety’ best practice or for purposes in service of public interest….(More)”.

Third Wave of Open Data


Paper (and site) by Stefaan G. Verhulst, Andrew Young, Andrew J. Zahuranec, Susan Ariel Aaronson, Ania Calderon, and Matt Gee on “How To Accelerate the Re-Use of Data for Public Interest Purposes While Ensuring Data Rights and Community Flourishing”: “The paper begins with a description of earlier waves of open data. Emerging from freedom of information laws adopted over the last half century, the First Wave of Open Data brought about newfound transparency, albeit one only available on request to an audience largely composed of journalists, lawyers, and activists. 

The Second Wave of Open Data, seeking to go beyond access to public records and inspired by the open source movement, called upon national governments to make their data open by default. Yet, this approach too had its limitations, leaving many data silos at the subnational level and in the private sector untouched..

The Third Wave of Open Data seeks to build on earlier successes and take into account lessons learned to help open data realize its transformative potential. Incorporating insights from various data experts, the paper describes the emergence of a Third Wave driven by the following goals:

  1. Publishing with Purpose by matching the supply of data with the demand for it, providing assets that match public interests;
  2. Fostering Partnerships and Data Collaboration by forging relationships with  community-based organizations, NGOs, small businesses, local governments, and others who understand how data can be translated into meaningful real-world action;
  3. Advancing Open Data at the Subnational Level by providing resources to cities, municipalities, states, and provinces to address the lack of subnational information in many regions.
  4. Prioritizing Data Responsibility and Data Rights by understanding the risks of using (and not using) data to promote and preserve the public’s general welfare.

Riding the Wave

Achieving these goals will not be an easy task and will require investments and interventions across the data ecosystem. The paper highlights eight actions that decision and policy makers can take to foster more equitable, impactful benefits… (More) (PDF) “

Consumer Reports Study Finds Marketplace Demand for Privacy and Security


Press Release: “American consumers are increasingly concerned about privacy and data security when purchasing new products and services, which may be a competitive advantage to companies that take action towards these consumer values, a new Consumer Reports study finds. 

The new study, “Privacy Front and Center” from CR’s Digital Lab with support from Omidyar Network, looks at the commercial benefits for companies that differentiate their products based on privacy and data security. The study draws from a nationally representative CR survey of 5,085 adult U.S. residents conducted in February 2020, a meta-analysis of 25 years of public opinion studies, and a conjoint analysis that seeks to quantify how consumers weigh privacy and security in their hardware and software purchasing decisions. 

“This study shows that raising the standard for privacy and security is a win-win for consumers and the companies,” said Ben Moskowitz, the director of the Digital Lab at Consumer Reports. “Given the rapid proliferation of internet connected devices, the rise in data breaches and cyber attacks, and the demand from consumers for heightened privacy and security measures, there’s an undeniable business case for companies to invest in creating more private and secure products.” 

Here are some of the key findings from the study:

  • According to CR’s February 2020 nationally representative survey, 74% of consumers are at least moderately concerned about the privacy of their personal data.
  • Nearly all Americans (96%) agree that more should be done to ensure that companies protect the privacy of consumers.
  • A majority of smart product owners (62%) worry about potential loss of privacy when buying them for their home or family.
  • The privacy/security conscious consumer class seems to include more men and people of color.
  • Experiencing a data breach correlates with a higher willingness to pay for privacy, and 30% of Americans have experienced one.
  • Of the Android users who switched to iPhones, 32% indicated doing so because of Apple’s perceived privacy or security benefits relative to Android….(More)”.

Responsible group data for children


Issue Brief by Andrew Young: “Understanding how and why group data is collected and what can be done to protect children’s rights…While the data protection field largely focuses on individual data harms, it is a focus that obfuscates and exacerbates the risks of data that could put groups of people at risk, such as the residents of a particular village, rather than individuals.

Though not well-represented in the current responsible data literature and policy domains writ large, the challenges group data poses are immense. Moreover, the unique and amplified group data risks facing children are even less scrutinized and understood.

To achieve Responsible Data for Children (RD4C) and ensure effective and legitimate governance of children’s data, government policymakers, data practitioners, and institutional decision makers need to ensure children’s group data are a core consideration in all relevant policies, procedures, and practices….(More)”. (See also Responsible Data for Children).

The Cruel New Era of Data-Driven Deportation


Article by Alvaro M. Bedoya: “For a long time, mass deportations were a small-data affair, driven by tips, one-off investigations, or animus-driven hunches. But beginning under George W. Bush, and expanding under Barack Obama, ICE leadership started to reap the benefits of Big Data. The centerpiece of that shift was the “Secure Communities” program, which gathered the fingerprints of arrestees at local and state jails across the nation and compared them with immigration records. That program quickly became a major driver for interior deportations. But ICE wanted more data. The agency had long tapped into driver address records through law enforcement networks. Eyeing the breadth of DMV databases, agents began to ask state officials to run face recognition searches on driver photos against the photos of undocumented people. In Utah, for example, ICE officers requested hundreds of face searches starting in late 2015. Many immigrants avoid contact with any government agency, even the DMV, but they can’t go without heat, electricity, or water; ICE aimed to find them, too. So, that same year, ICE paid for access to a private database that includes the addresses of customers from 80 national and regional electric, cable, gas, and telephone companies.

Amid this bonanza, at least, the Obama administration still acknowledged red lines. Some data were too invasive, some uses too immoral. Under Donald Trump, these limits fell away.

In 2017, breaking with prior practice, ICE started to use data from interviews with scared, detained kids and their relatives to find and arrest more than 500 sponsors who stepped forward to take in the children. At the same time, ICE announced a plan for a social media monitoring program that would use artificial intelligence to automatically flag 10,000 people per month for deportation investigations. (It was scuttled only when computer scientists helpfully indicated that the proposed system was impossible.) The next year, ICE secured access to 5 billion license plate scans from public parking lots and roadways, a hoard that tracks the drives of 60 percent of Americans—an initiative blocked by Department of Homeland Security leadership four years earlier. In August, the agency cut a deal with Clearview AI, whose technology identifies people by comparing their faces not to millions of driver photos, but to 3 billion images from social media and other sites. This is a new era of immigrant surveillance: ICE has transformed from an agency that tracks some people sometimes to an agency that can track anyone at any time….(More)”.

Ethical Challenges and Opportunities Associated With the Ability to Perform Medical Screening From Interactions With Search Engines


Viewpoint by Elad Yom-Tov and Yuval Cherlow: “Recent research has shown the efficacy of screening for serious medical conditions from data collected while people interact with online services. In particular, queries to search engines and the interactions with them were shown to be advantageous for screening a range of conditions including diabetes, several forms of cancer, eating disorders, and depression. These screening abilities offer unique advantages in that they can serve a broad strata of the society, including people in underserved populations and in countries with poor access to medical services. However, these advantages need to be balanced against the potential harm to privacy, autonomy, and nonmaleficence, which are recognized as the cornerstones of ethical medical care. Here, we discuss these opportunities and challenges, both when collecting data to develop online screening services and when deploying them. We offer several solutions that balance the advantages of these services with the ethical challenges they pose….(More)”.

Privacy in Pandemic: Law, Technology, and Public Health in the COVID-19 Crisis


Paper by Tiffany C. Li: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of deaths and disastrous consequences around the world, with lasting repercussions for every field of law, including privacy and technology. The unique characteristics of this pandemic have precipitated an increase in use of new technologies, including remote communications platforms, healthcare robots, and medical AI. Public and private actors are using new technologies, like heat sensing, and technologically-influenced programs, like contact tracing, alike in response, leading to a rise in government and corporate surveillance in sectors like healthcare, employment, education, and commerce. Advocates have raised the alarm for privacy and civil liberties violations, but the emergency nature of the pandemic has drowned out many concerns.

This Article is the first comprehensive account of privacy impacts related to technology and public health responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Many have written on the general need for better health privacy protections, education privacy protections, consumer privacy protections, and protections against government and corporate surveillance. However, this Article is the first comprehensive article to examine these problems of privacy and technology specifically in light of the pandemic, arguing that the lens of the pandemic exposes the need for both widescale and small-scale reform of privacy law. This Article approaches these problems with a focus on technical realities and social salience, and with a critical awareness of digital and political inequities, crafting normative recommendations with these concepts in mind.

Understanding privacy in this time of pandemic is critical for law and policymaking in the near future and for the long-term goals of creating a future society that protects both civil liberties and public health. It is also important to create a contemporary scholarly understanding of privacy in pandemic at this moment in time, as a matter of historical record. By examining privacy in pandemic, in the midst of pandemic, this Article seeks to create a holistic scholarly foundation for future work on privacy, technology, public health, and legal responses to global crises….(More)”

Data to the rescue: how humanitarian aid NGOs should collect information based on the GDPR


Paper by Theodora Gazi: “Data collection is valuable before, during and after interventions in order to increase the effectiveness of humanitarian projects. Although the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets forth rules for the processing of personal data, its implementation by humanitarian aid actors is crucial and presents challenges. Failure to comply triggers severe risks for both data subjects and the reputation of the actor. This article provides insights into the implementation of the guiding principles of the GDPR, the legal bases for data processing, data subjects’ rights and data sharing during the provision of humanitarian assistance…(More)”

The Razor’s Edge: Liberalizing the Digital Surveillance Ecosystem


Report by CNAS: “The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating global trends in digital surveillance. Public health imperatives, combined with opportunism by autocratic regimes and authoritarian-leaning leaders, are expanding personal data collection and surveillance. This tendency toward increased surveillance is taking shape differently in repressive regimes, open societies, and the nation-states in between.

China, run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is leading the world in using technology to enforce social control, monitor populations, and influence behavior. Part of maximizing this control depends on data aggregation and a growing capacity to link the digital and physical world in real time, where online offenses result in brisk repercussions. Further, China is increasing investments in surveillance technology and attempting to influence the patterns of technology’s global use through the export of authoritarian norms, values, and governance practices. For example, China champions its own technology standards to the rest of the world, while simultaneously peddling legislative models abroad that facilitate access to personal data by the state. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic offers China and other authoritarian nations the opportunity to test and expand their existing surveillance powers internally, as well as make these more extensive measures permanent.

Global swing states are already exhibiting troubling trends in their use of digital surveillance, including establishing centralized, government-held databases and trading surveillance practices with authoritarian regimes. Amid the pandemic, swing states like India seem to be taking cues from autocratic regimes by mandating the download of government-enabled contact-tracing applications. Yet, for now, these swing states appear responsive to their citizenry and sensitive to public agitation over privacy concerns.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic offers China and other authoritarian nations the opportunity to test and expand their existing surveillance powers internally, as well as make these more extensive measures permanent.

Open societies and democracies can demonstrate global surveillance trends similar to authoritarian regimes and swing states, including the expansion of digital surveillance in the name of public safety and growing private sector capabilities to collect and analyze data on individuals. Yet these trends toward greater surveillance still occur within the context of pluralistic, open societies that feature ongoing debates about the limits of surveillance. However, the pandemic stands to shift the debate in these countries from skepticism over personal data collection to wider acceptance. Thus far, the spectrum of responses to public surveillance reflects the diversity of democracies’ citizenry and processes….(More)”.