It's a Myth! Don't Believe That De-identification Doesn't Protect Privacy- It Does!

TORONTO, June 16, 2014 /CNW/ - Properly applied de-identification is an effective tool to protect privacy, but recent criticisms have suggested the opposite. The perpetuation of this myth has the potential to adversely impact health research, innovation and Big Data insights.

In order to address the misconceptions surrounding de-identification, Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian, and Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) Senior Analyst Daniel Castro, have jointly released a new white paper, "Big Data and Innovation - Setting the Record Straight: De-Identification Does Work."

The white paper examines a select group of articles that are often referenced in support of the myth that de-identified datasets are at risk of re-identifying individuals through linkages with other available data. It examines the ways in which the academic research referenced has been misconstrued and finds that the primary reason for the popularity of these misconceptions is not factual inaccuracies or errors within the literature, but rather a tendency on the part of commentators to overstate/exaggerate the risk of re-identification. While the research does raise important issues concerning the use of proper de-identification techniques, it does not suggest that de-identification should be abandoned.

The co-authors feel that it is crucial to dispel this myth lest the capability of de-identifying data be viewed as a barrier to innovation. This is simply not the case. It is indeed possible to strongly de-identify data, thereby achieving a high degree of privacy, while at the same time preserving the required level of data quality necessary for the analysis. Maximizing both privacy and data quality enables a shift away from a zero-sum, either/or paradigm, to an inclusive positive-sum paradigm, a key principle of Privacy by Design.  This doubly-enabling, "win-win" strategy avoids unnecessary trade-offs and allows data analytics to advance in ways never before thought possible.


"We must remain vigilant in reversing the perception that de-identification is an ineffective tool to protect privacy — we cannot allow it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Commissioner Cavoukian. "Strong de-identification remains an essential tool to protecting privacy and allowing innovative research to flourish! This serves as yet another example of how privacy enables innovation!"

"Data innovation is transforming numerous aspects of society from health care to education and privacy concerns need to be balanced with the public benefits the enhanced use of data provides," notes Castro. "De-identification is a useful tool for maintaining this balance and it is my hope this report will address unnecessary fears and help expand and improve the use of these techniques moving forward."

About the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario
The Information and Privacy Commissioner is appointed by and reports to the Ontario Legislative Assembly, and is independent of the government of the day. The Commissioner's mandate includes overseeing the access and privacy provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as well as the Personal Health Information Protection Act, which applies to both public and private sector health information custodians. A vital component of the Commissioner's mandate is to help educate the public about access and privacy issues.

About Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF)
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank at the cutting edge of designing innovation strategies and technology policies to create economic opportunities and improve quality of life in the United States and around the world. Founded in 2006, ITIF is a 501(c) 3 non-profit, non-partisan organization that documents the beneficial role technology plays in our lives and provides pragmatic ideas for improving technology-driven productivity, boosting competitiveness, and meeting today's global challenges through innovation. More at:

SOURCE: Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario

For further information:

Media contact:
Trell Huether
Media Relations Specialist
Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario
Office: 416-326-3939
Mobile: 416-873-9746

William Dube
Communications Director
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation
Office: 202-626-5744
Mobile: 703-539-9427


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