ACS has developed a new technique to anonymise big data, allowing governments and businesses to more safely share data without compromising the privacy of individuals.

The innovative technique is detailed in a new report Privacy in Data Sharing: A Guide for Business and Government, released today at the Akolade Australian Data Summit in Sydney.

Comprising numerous formulas, the technique is the culmination of more than two years’ work by the ACS Data Sharing Committee, led by NSW Chief Data Scientist Dr Ian Oppermann.

“Anonymising data is one of the most challenging issues we face today. You can’t just strip names out. In many cases when data sets are combined, it becomes possible to re-identify individuals by cross referencing,” said Oppermann.

“Governments understand the benefit of releasing deidentified data to support research and to help drive industry. However, when important data sets are being considered for release, the concern is always the thought of what other data sets are out there and whether they could be combined.”

Victor Dominello, NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property with Dr Ian Oppermann at the launch of the report.

According to Oppermann, the report details a usable technique for anonymising data in a way that that is designed to prevent reidentification and preserve privacy.

It looks at a variety of factors – the people and organisations who have access to the data, the number of people contained within the dataset, handling processes and more – and provides a defined guide for a ‘reasonable’ level of data privacy.

The sheer number of datasets and variables available today makes it incredibly hard to share data that is safely deidentified, said Oppermann.

In some cases, hundreds of datasets may be combined, which could make the risk of finding personal identification very high.

The report proposes a framework to address this risk and proposes a standardised technique to ensure that the data is kept as safe as needed for the uses intended.

The Privacy in Data Sharing: A Guide for Business and Government report launched today.

“What we have developed is a framework for addressing the complexity of data sharing. We have suggested a standard way to safely share data between organisations,” said Oppermann.

“We think getting this right is crucial for the future of Australian ICT. The benefits of data sharing are immense, but the risks are high. This is a way to enjoy the benefits while managing the risks.”

ACS President Yohan Ramasundara said being able to share data safely without compromising the privacy of individuals was a “key issue” for governments and business.

“Data sharing between businesses and governments offers tremendous potential for new smart services, for creating value. We’re already seeing many organisations exploring the potential of shared data, and it’s predicted that open data is going to be worth $25 billion per year to the Australian economy.”

The ACS Data Sharing Committee has members from state and federal governments as well as businesses, including Standards Australia, CSIRO, Microsoft, Clayton Utz, and many others.

The report can be downloaded from the ACS website.