Written by: Julia Montiel and Paul Lekas
Privacy-Enhancing technologies (PETS) are tools and techniques that are designed to help protect the privacy of individuals in the digital world and to enable productive uses of information in the face of legal and regulatory constraints and concerns around confidentiality (protection of trade secrets and privacy, for example). PETs can help mitigate risks associated with the use of personal and business data in a variety of contexts, such as online communication, financial transactions, and health data management.
The field of PETs has become a focal point of U.S. and international policy efforts in the past two years. At the 2021 Democracy Summit, the United States and United Kingdom launched a collaborative PETs prize challenge to encourage innovation, protect privacy and democratic values, and foster collaboration. This summit was important because it has the potential to drive technological advancement that protects privacy while harnessing the value of data. By promoting the development and adoption of PETS, it contributes to a more privacy-respecting and ethically responsible approach to data-driven innovation, ensuring that democratic values and individual privacy are upheld in an increasingly data-centric world.
Most recently, we’ve seen efforts by the United Nations, which created a PET Lab and issued guidance for unlocking value from government dataset to coordinate more effectively the use of public datasets internationally, and Singapore, which has created a PETs sandbox.
Significantly, earlier this year the White House issued the first-ever National Strategy to Advance Privacy-Preserving Data Sharing and Analytics (PPDSA), a collection of recommendations aimed at protecting individuals’ privacy while allowing for responsible data use in innovation and research. The plan emphasizes the essential role that data plays in driving growth, as well as the importance of privacy controls to ensure that individuals’ personal information is not misused or abused. The PPDSA National Strategy is the outcome of cooperation between governmental bodies, businesses, and civil society organizations.
The National Strategy specifies five essential pillars: enhancing privacy regulations, encouraging responsible data practices, improving data interoperability, investing in privacy-preserving technologies, and incorporating privacy into government data practices.
- Stronger privacy protections through privacy-by-design principles
- Responsible data practices: openness, control, and security
- Enhancing data interoperability while maintaining privacy
- Investment in privacy-preserving technologies
- Integrating privacy into government data practices with robust protections
The PPDSA National Strategy is significant because it represents recognition of the value of PETs by the highest level of the U.S. government; provides critical education for policymakers; and lays out a roadmap for advancing R&D and federal adoption of PETs. While SIIA wholeheartedly supports this effort, there is much work to be done. SIIA has been outspoken in heralding the potential of PETs to address a range of challenges in an increasingly data-driven world. Many technologies in the PETs category are ready to deploy today. There remains a disconnect between the state of the technology and policymaking efforts. Privacy and data protection laws are drafted without a recognition for how technology can be used to better achieve policy goals; older laws have not adapted to reflect technological developments; and private sector adoption of PETs to achieve societally beneficial results – such as better detection of suspicious financial activity across borders – remains low. SIIA will explore these issues in further publications.