In a world that’s constantly hyping the next big thing, it’s natural to be wary when a family of technologies is described as transformational. This label has been recently associated with Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs), a category known for its ability to enable and preserve the security and privacy of data when it is being used or processed. Technologies become transformational in context, and that is certainly the case for PETs where the emergence of the global digital economy and the simultaneous need for hyperlocalization has created a need to reshape the way we leverage data.
While often necessary, silos and barriers put in place to support regulatory, competitive, and/or security considerations also significantly limit data usage. PETs bridge that chasm, allowing organizations to use data to extract value while still respecting the reasons that those silos and barriers were established — a classic ‘have your cake and eat it too’ scenario.
The quality that makes PETs most unique is the fact that the technologies protect data while it’s being used, allowing entities to securely and privately leverage data assets across boundaries. Data has three states: at-rest (in the file system/database), in-transit (as it moves through the network), and in-use (during processing). When we think about the ways data is meaningfully used or processed, we generally come back to two basic functions: search and analytics (which includes AI/machine learning). Searches and analytics are performed over data to identify information and extract insights that generate value for the organization. [...]
The ability to use data securely and privately across silos is imperative for businesses and it has made PETs an increasingly prominent focal point for a broad range of influential organizations and governments around the world. The United Nations operates a Privacy Enhancing Technology-focused lab and recently released its “UN Guide on Privacy-Enhancing Technologies for Official Statistics” which aims to help National Statistic Offices protect data when analyzing and disseminating sensitive information.
Another in-depth report, this one published by The Royal Society, explores how PETs can help to balance the risks and rewards of data use, leading to wider social benefit. In April 2023, The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued its updated Zero Trust guidance to state that an organization achieving the ‘Optimal’ implementation threshold “encrypts data in use where appropriate” — a practice only possible through the use of PETs. [...]
The need to securely and privately leverage data is not a passing trend. Whether led by market demand or regulation, organizations must be ready to operate at a global scale in a world that prioritizes data protection and privacy. PETs uniquely deliver solutions to this challenge. As demonstrated by the increasingly prevalent applications for Privacy Enhancing Technologies across verticals, a growing number of organizations are taking advantage of these business-enabling capabilities. We’re at a tipping point as the need to operate globally while respecting data silos and boundaries is becoming ubiquitous. Efforts to expand our collective understanding of the value that PETs can deliver will drive our ability to leverage data securely and privately across these silos, affirming the business-enabling capabilities of these transformational technologies.
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