American AI Bringing new focus to privacy enhancing technologies

Bringing new focus to privacy enhancing technologies (PETs)

With technology becoming ubiquitous, the digital world landscape is fast evolving. Amid an ever-expanding data universe, a continuously available digital world has many new opportunities to offer. But there are challenges too. One of these challenges is our changing perspective on privacy.

Therefore, today there are more laws, than in the past, mandating stronger data and privacy protections. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) with the advent of new technologies and the proliferation of personal information, ‘the protection of personal privacy has become a more significant issue in recent years.’

In order to address such issues, the development and adoption of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) is becoming increasingly common. These technologies have the potential to safeguard data used in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications.

Defining PETs techniques

With the help of privacy-enhancing technologies, insights from sensitive data are gained while protecting privacy and proprietary information of individuals. These emerging technologies help data stay private throughout its lifecycle.

PETs also include maturing technologies, such as federated learning, which allow machine learning (ML) models to be trained on high quality datasets collaboratively among organizations, without the data leaving safe and secure environments.

As per the Internet Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), PETs refer to the use of technology to help achieve compliance with data protection legislation.

According to this report of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, some of the types of PETs include anonymization, encryption, multi-party computation and differential privacy.

Development of a national strategy 

Some recent initiatives including collaboration between the U.S. and the U.K. Governments on prize challenges to accelerate development and adoption of PETs and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issuing a request for information (RFI), last month, for public comments to help inform development of a national strategy on advancing privacy-enhancing technologies have brought new focus to PETs. These moves are expected to attract widespread adoption of PETs in the future across various departments and agencies.

As per the RFI, this national strategy will put forth a vision for “responsibly harnessing privacy-preserving data sharing and analytics to benefit individuals and society. It will also propose actions from research investments to training and education initiatives, to the development of standards, policy, and regulations needed to achieve that vision.”

In one of its recent blogs, OSTP explained that the development of privacy-enhancing technologies can provide a pathway toward a future where researchers can analyze a broad and diverse swath of medical records without accessing anyone’s private data. It also noted that PETs can provide a pathway toward this future by leveraging data-driven technologies like artificial intelligence, while preserving privacy.

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