Event Recap: SIIA Presents at Privacy-enhancing Tech Summit on May 18

Lisa Bader, Vice President of Communications for PET company Enveil (left), and Paul Lekas, SIIA Head of Policy, (right) engaged in a fireside chat on the regulatory landscape of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs).



On May 18, SIIA participated at the Privacy-enhancing Technology (PET) Summit, hosted by Kisaco Research. The summit included a range of public and private sector participants: governmental entities, private companies offering PETs, academics and PET researchers, and SIIA – one of the few trade associations who is actively advocating on expanding PETs. Private companies in attendance varied in size, scope and sector, demonstrating that PETs and privacy-preserving techniques, as well as AI and machine learning, are being used in a number of productive ways to expand the scale of usable data in the digital ecosystem. 

What are PETs? PETs are techniques grounded in advanced statistics and cryptography, that remove identifiable personal information from datasets so that they can be used both scalably and responsibly. By allowing the secure, real-time, and global sharing of data, PETs enable organizations to protect personal privacy while at the same time using data to make faster, better-informed decisions. Common examples of PETs include: homomorphic encryption, anonymisation, and differential privacy, which provides additional protection by never revealing personal data in plain text. 

PETs are being leveraged in various ways by the public and private sector. Just to share a few specific examples, the White House announced the use of PETs to improve supply-chain related challenges earlier this year and the U.S. Dept of Commerce published its 2022-23 priorities, including Strategic Goal #4, which is to expand opportunity and discovery through data. The private sector has been incorporating PETs into its strategy as well. Banks are using PETs to tackle money laundering and financial crime. In health care, PETs are advancing clinical trials that were once improbable and are being used to research and diagnose rare health diseases.

As was noted during the summit, due to a lack of general consensus and unified momentum, PETs continue to be underutilized as a solution to a myriad of privacy-related problems associated with data analysis and data transfers. 

Key takeaways from the session included:

  • Governmental entities, such as U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is conducting research and shaping guidelines for the use of PETs, as well as entities such as the UK ICO’s office, which is shaping guidance on PETs, discussed efforts underway in government and internationally to further fundamental research and applications of PETs, including pilot projects and the new U.S.-UK challenge..
  • SIIA’s head of policy, Paul Lekas, spoke in a keynote with leading PET company, Enveil. Lekas described the state of policy and regulation around PETs and opportunities for industry to educate lawmakers and policymakers. He shared the steps that can be taken to shape policy to encourage PET adoption. He explained how, as the phrase goes, a “rising tide will lift all boats”: companies in the PET space can work together to promote the use of these technologies for socially-beneficial purposes. He also spoke to the valuable impact that a trade association can play in bridging the gap between policymakers and private companies. SIIA is actively advocating to move the role of PETs forward and has been meeting with policymakers at every level of government to emphasize the socially beneficial uses of data and PETs in supporting stronger cross-governmental collaboration as well as U.S. competitiveness and innovation.  
  • Private companies and researchers presented examples of the unique use cases of PETs, including an emphasis in highly regulated markets that process sensitive data, like the financial services and healthcare sectors. But there are more use cases outside of these sectors, including in retail and cross-contextual advertising. Some machine learning and AI companies demonstrated in-house templates that are laying the groundwork to expand interoperable PETs usage beyond sector-specific uses. 
  • Venture capitalists commented on their vision and rationale for investing in PETs. There is optimism that PETs will be a fundamental driving force in the data economy. They noted the importance of further research on the ROI of PETs, in order to estimate the market need and drive further adoption and scale. 

Some brief takeaways from the event include:

  • The appropriate choice of PETs can differ considerably by use case, as demonstrated by evidence-based research.Therefore, no one PET is seen as paramount. While this means that the PETs community should be working to get the word out, the lack of standardization makes it difficult to unify the various approaches to PETs.
  • There is a need for further standardization and common definitions across the industry. Companies are using a range of AI and machine learning to build PETs into their infrastructure and no one PET has been evidenced to have more overarching potential than others.
  • Governments are in the very early stages of exploring how PETs can further the objectives of financial, health care, and other objectives. There is more that the U.S. government can do to model financial and regulatory incentives that are working in other countries, including the UK and Singapore, to expand mainstream PETs usage. 
  • More advocacy is needed. More can and should be done to unite the PETs companies in their shared goals to support a data-driven economy. SIIA is helping with advocacy and lobbying to take the heavy lifting off of small companies whose voice should be elevated with members of Congress and governmental stakeholders.
  • The future for the use of PETs is bright. Venture capitalists see tremendous potential for the industry, though they believe it remains in its infancy at the moment. It will require more alignment between private and public sector entities and will benefit from incentive-driven opportunities to encourage new market entrants.

Data use, capture, and processing is driving nearly every facet of our lives. By furthering a holistic strategy for PETs that incorporates all of the appropriate stakeholders in the data value chain, we can truly unlock its full potential.

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