Feeds

Large databases are not safe enough, says stats boffin

'Identity reconstruction' still possible

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Large databases do not adequately protect sensitive personal information, according to a statistics professor in the US, who says that individuals can still be identified despite attempts to anonymise them.

George Duncan is a statistics professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He writes in the journal Science that traditional methods of anonymising people's database records are not good enough.

He said that databases "de-identify" people by masking important information such as their social security number or their birthday, but that this does not render them unidentifiable. Anyone who can access more than one characteristic of a person in a database has a chance at identifying the person, he said.

The problem is that the very information that most closely identifies a person is likely to be that in which the organisation behind the database is interested, he wrote, meaning that it cannot be deleted or masked.

"The question is, how can data be made useful for research purposes without compromising the confidentiality of those who provided the data?" Duncan said in a statement.

Duncan said that it would be possible to build systems that make this kind of identity reconstruction impossible. He also said that further user-specific restrictions on the use of information in databases would go some way to solving the problem.

It is, said Duncan, a difficult problem to solve. "Achieving 'adequate' privacy will require engineering innovation, managerial commitment, information cooperation of data subjects and social controls (legislation, regulation, codes of conduct by professional associations and response to reactions of the public)," Duncan wrote in Science.

As public and private bodies gather increasing amounts of information on customers and citizens, concern is growing about individuals' rights to privacy within such systems. Some opposition to the Government's identity register is based on fears about the abuse of or errors in the database that would lie behind any ID card.

Privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner has warned that the UK is becoming a surveillance society without adequate privacy safeguards, and the House of Lords earlier this year said they would probe the constitutionality of such widespread surveillance.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Knock Knock tool makes a joke of Mac AV
Yes, we know Macs 'don't get viruses', but when they do this code'll spot 'em
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
Why weasel words might not work for Whisper
CEO suspends editor but privacy questions remain
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
BlackEnergy crimeware coursing through US control systems
US CERT says three flavours of control kit are under attack
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.