How to protect privacy in open data

More and more government data is presented online as open data. Government information which can be shared and re-used easily enhances transparency. On the other hand, authorities publishing open data have an obligation to protect the privacy of individual citizens and companies. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) can lend a helping hand with its host of expertise in the protection of private data by offering a practical course.


‘Up to what extent can we publish our information as open data without disclosing personal and corporate privacy-sensitive data? Various authorities including ministries, provincial and municipal governments are facing this issue’, says Tanya Gelsema, policy staff member at CBS, ‘And justifiably so. After all, the adage of ‘open data’ is that data are freely accessible as long as this sensitive formation does not lead to identification of individuals or companies.’
But how does information become traceable, what is defined as sensitive information and to what level of detail can a government present data while safeguarding privacy at the same time? Gelsema: ‘Obviously, this is an area of tension. You want to provide as much valuable information as possible, but it is obvious that the more detailed this information is, the higher the risk of privacy infringement.’


CBS organises courses exclusively for government employees on safeguarding privacy in open data. ‘We are experts in protecting personal and company data. CBS is the European frontrunner in the development of methodology and software ’, Gelsema continues. ‘We are eager to share this knowledge.’ The practical course is being led by statistical researcher Eric Schulte Nordholt and methodologist Peter-Paul de Wolf. Gelsema: ‘On the basis of examples, it will become clear which risks are involved and which solutions are available.’ Participants can also submit questions on issues they have dealt with in the past. ‘At the end of the day, they will have all the answers to their questions as we will show how we deal with publishing data while maintaining levels of detail as well as safeguarding privacy.’