Privacy-Preserved Data Sharing for Evidence-Based Policy Decisions: A Demonstration Project Using Human Services Administrative Records for Evidence-Building Activities

Paper by the Bipartisan Policy Center: “Emerging privacy-preserving technologies and approaches hold considerable promise for improving data privacy and confidentiality in the 21st century. At the same time, more information is becoming accessible to support evidence-based policymaking.

In 2017, the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking unanimously recommended that further attention be given to the deployment of privacy-preserving data-sharing applications. If these types of applications can be tested and scaled in the near-term, they could vastly improve insights about important policy problems by using disparate datasets. At the same time, the approaches could promote substantial gains in privacy for the American public.

There are numerous ways to engage in privacy-preserving data sharing. This paper primarily focuses on secure computation, which allows information to be accessed securely, guarantees privacy, and permits analysis without making private information available. Three key issues motivated the launch of a domestic secure computation demonstration project using real government-collected data:

  • Using new privacy-preserving approaches addresses pressing needs in society. Current widely accepted approaches to managing privacy risks—like preventing the identification of individuals or organizations in public datasets—will become less effective over time. While there are many practices currently in use to keep government-collected data confidential, they do not often incorporate modern developments in computer science, mathematics, and statistics in a timely way. New approaches can enable researchers to combine datasets to improve the capability for insights, without being impeded by traditional concerns about bringing large, identifiable datasets together. In fact, if successful, traditional approaches to combining data for analysis may not be as necessary.
  • There are emerging technical applications to deploy certain privacy-preserving approaches in targeted settings. These emerging procedures are increasingly enabling larger-scale testing of privacy-preserving approaches across a variety of policy domains, governmental jurisdictions, and agency settings to demonstrate the privacy guarantees that accompany data access and use.
  • Widespread adoption and use by public administrators will only follow meaningful and successful demonstration projects. For example, secure computation approaches are complex and can be difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with their potential. Implementing new privacy-preserving approaches will require thoughtful attention to public policy implications, public opinions, legal restrictions, and other administrative limitations that vary by agency and governmental entity.

This project used real-world government data to illustrate the applicability of secure computation compared to the classic data infrastructure available to some local governments. The project took place in a domestic, non-intelligence setting to increase the salience of potential lessons for public agencies….(More)”.