Medical databases and privacy

Privates Made Public

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New reporting requirements in Oklahoma could force women who receive abortions to have their private information entered in a public database. The rules are on hold pending a court hearing, which at press time had not yet been scheduled.

The new regulations would require doctors to collect and report information about every abortion in the state, including the mother's age, marital status, race, number of children, education level, relationship to the father, and reason for the abortion, as well as the cost and method of payment. The form contains 37 questions in all, most with several subsections. One goal of the law, which also includes a ban on sex-selective abortions, is to make the data available to researchers and the general public on the state government's website.

To keep such personal information private, the database would strip out women's names and other obvious identifying information, theoretically "anonymizing" the data. But as Latanya Sweeney of Harvard's Center for Research on Computation and Society told BioEdge, "data tend to flow around and get linked to other data." Even when obvious identifying information is removed from a large data set, personal identities often can be cracked by a geek with time on his hands. Arvind Narayanan and Vitaly Shmatikov, for instance, broke the anonymity of a large set of Netflix movie preference data by comparing the dates of specific rankings with similar rankings on the popular Internet Movie Database, where users reveal personal information in public profiles. Something similar happened when AOL released "anonymized" search queries that nonetheless made identifying some users quite simple, with potentially embarrassing results.

Paul Ohm, a law professor at the University of Colorado, summed up the problem in an interview with the tech website Ars Technica: "Data can either be useful or perfectly anonymous but never both." 

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  1. Since you cited my paper, you may be interested to know that I think this is a giant overreaction: http://33bits.org/2009/10/09/o…..-it-wrong/

    1. Very interesting reading Arvind. Thank you.

  2. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke.

  3. I don’t got your point. But thank you all the same.

  4. Very interesting reading Arvind. Thank you.Alpine Mastiff

  5. Some thing same transpired whenever AOL produced “anonymized” seek questions which even so produced discovering several end users fairly simple, by using probably uncomfortable final results.flat coated retriever

  6. Arvind Narayanan in addition to Vitaly Shmatikov, in particular, out of cash that anonymity of your substantial couple of Netflix film choice records through evaluating that schedules regarding unique field by using same field to the famous Net Film Repository, exactly where end users disclose private information within criminal court profiles. Some thing same transpired whenever AOL produced “anonymized” seek questions which even so produced discovering several end users fairly simple, by using probably uncomfortable final results. Alpine Mastiff

  7. Arvind Narayanan in addition to Vitaly Shmatikov, in particular, out of cash that anonymity of your substantial couple auto repair of Netflix film choice records through evaluating that schedules regarding unique field by using same field to the famous Net Film Repository, exactly where end users disclose private information within criminal court profiles. Some thing same transpired whenever AOL produced “anonymized” seek questions which even so produced discovering a good number of end users fairly simple, by using probably uncomfortable final results.

  8. ge, marital status, race, number of children, education level, relationship to the father, and reason for the abortion, as well as the cost and method of payment. The form contains 37

  9. collect and report information about every abortion in the state, including the mother’s age,

  10. private, the database would strip out women’s names and other obvious identifying information, theoretically “anonymizing” the data. But as Latanya Sweeney of Harvard’s Center for Research on Computation and Society told BioEdge, “data tend to flow around a

  11. ation, theoretically “anonymizing” the data. But as Latanya Sweeney of Harvard’s Center for Research on Computation and Society told BioEdge, “data tend to flow around a

  12. for the abortion, as well as the cost and method of payment. The form contains 37 questio

  13. yanan and Vitaly Shmatikov, for instance, broke the anonymity of a large set of Netflix movie preference data by comparing the dates of specific rankings with similar rankin

  14. personal identities often can be cracked by a geek with time on his hands. Arvind Narayanan

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