Data Privacy featured in Royal Society report on protecting privacy in practice

We were delighted to see name-checked in an important new report on data privacy from the Royal Society, the world’s oldest independent scientific academy.

Protecting Privacy in Practice examines how we realise the full potential of large-scale data analysis in a world in which the scale and rate at which data is collected, used and analysed is rapidly increasing.

The Privacy Enhancing Technologies working group’s report started from a point of recognising that this collection offers significant new and developing benefits to society and the economy, while also facing constraints such as legal, reputational, political, business and competition concerns.

The report’s executive summary notes that: “This nascent but potentially disruptive set of technologies, combined with changes in wider policy and business frameworks, could enable significantly greater sharing and use of data in a privacy-preserving, trustworthy manner. It could create new opportunities to use datasets without creating unacceptable risks.

“It also offers great potential to reshape the data economy, and to change, in particular, the trust relationships between citizens, governments and companies.”

But it also notes that the failure to adequately address privacy risks may damage trust and limit the realisation of the benefits that can be delivered by data-enabled technologies.

In the report’s foreword, Professor Alison Noble, chair of the working group, said: “Our aim here is to help raise awareness of the potential of these technologies so that we can inspire further research into their development, spurred by identifying the opportunities where they can be put into practice.”

The report offers seven recommendations:

  • Accelerating the research and development of what it calls Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) through funders, government and industry working together
  • Promoting the development of an innovation ecosystem to help investors and businesses understand the potential of this market opportunity
  • Driving the development and the adoption of PETs
  • Supporting organisations in becoming intelligent users of PETs
  • Giving public sector organisations the expertise and assurance they need to implement new technological applications
  • Creating the skilled workforce needed to develop and implement PETs
  • Promoting human flourishing by exploring innovative ways of governing data and its use that are enabled by PETs

This new report follows two previous ones looking at the significant change in data-enabled technologies in recent years.

Progress and research in cybersecurity made the case that trust is essential for growing and maintaining participation in the digital society, while the Royal Society and British Academy’s joint report Data management and use: governance in the 21st century identified a number of social and ethical tensions that arise out of the changing ways that we use data.