With regard to privacy, there are concerns about the inadvertent publication of personal information and the de-anonymisation of data, whereby individuals can be identified through analysing or combining datasets.
The Open Government Guide, produced by the Open Government Partnership, places the responsibility on governments to be accountable in their handling of citizens’ personal information. The right to privacy and the right to information, the two ‘information rights’, must be balanced so they can work in tandem if the powerful are to be held to account (Open Government Partnership, n.d.).
In developing country contexts, the Open Rights Group, a digital privacy campaigning organisation, found that regulation of privacy was “very patchy”, and that penetration of digital technologies meant the risks of privacy violations were “very high”. It found that government open data programmes in some African countries had “little consideration of privacy”, and in particular worried about the opening of private sector information, including mobile phone analytics (Open Rights Group, 2014).
Privacy considerations can be especially important for women and girls, as both a rights issue and a safety issue. The government of India was recently forced to remove private information, including location, age and contact number, of single women in receipt of government welfare programmes, amid concerns this could lead to harassment (Gowda, 2015).
Privacy advocates fear that, as more datasets become available, de-anonymisation or “jigsaw re-identification” becomes possible, as different data can be pieced together to reveal facts about individuals (O’Hara, 2011). One US researcher who found personal data in publicly available data writes “no matter how carefully one de-identifies information, there remains at least a small risk of reidentification”, putting the risk at 0.01–0.25% (Hoffman, 2016). Meanwhile recent research in the EU found that a strong transparency doctrine could make countries more vulnerable to the possible privacy-harming consequences of open data (Jaatinen, 2016).
- Hoffman, S. (2016). The promise and perils of open medical data. Hastings Center Report, 46, 6-7.
- Gowda, A. (2015, July 9). Karnataka government risks women safety, puts out personal data in caste census. India Today.
- Jaatinen, T. (2016). The relationship between open data initiatives, privacy, and government transparency: a love triangle? International Data Privacy Law, 6, 28-38.
- O’Hara, K. (2011). Transparent government, not transparent citizens: A report on privacy and transparency for the Cabinet Office. London: Cabinet Office.
- Open Government Partnership. (n. d.). Privacy and data protection. In Open government guide.
- Open Rights Group. (2014). Open data and privacy primer. London: Open Rights Group.