Privacy Researcher Dr. Sara R. Jordan on Privacy and Data EthicsMar 28, 2022
Dr. Sara R. Jordan's entrance into the online privacy and data ethics sphere happened in a rather oblique way.
"I was working with a team to try and build an AI-powered classification engine for ethical text and regulatory statements," she told Orchid's Derek Silva on this week's episode of Priv8. "This involved reviewing the responses that people were giving back to regulators on regulations and guidance they were posting online.
"It wasn't long before I started to notice this weird and wicked pattern," Sara continued. "When regulators would post information related to medical matters, people would often respond by posting a lot of personal information—including data about their health—in the comments. It was a little bit frightening, especially when you consider how these people are going to get the help they need from governments.
"This also led me to think about public interactions between governments and civilians from the perspective of individual privacy and security," Sara said.
Indeed, people who need government assistance often have limited channels to access it. Therefore, they may try and use public forums to explain what their private problems are—which puts their privacy at risk. "Nobody else needs to see comments that contain information about others' health care opportunities, or medical record numbers, or other personal data.
"So the question is this: how can we build these online notice and comment systems so that personal information is automatically redacted or automatically restricted?"
This question eventually led Sara to ask broader questions about Internet data ethics.
"How do we make sure that the people we are taking data from—whether through surveys or other means—understand and agree to what will happen to their data?"
"Most often, people don't have enough understanding to really make an informed decision about these things. But for me, the study of data ethics is about getting as close to that frontier of meaningful understanding and agreement as we possibly can.
"And it's not just about collecting data—we then have to figure out how to appropriately manage and curate it. This involves structuring technical and administrative safeguards in such a way that the systems that manage our data don't become corrupted over time."