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Big data privacy discussed at MIT workshop

Big data privacy was on tap in this Talking Data podcast. A recent MIT workshop, held at the behest of President Obama, looked at encryption and more.

Big data privacy was on the minds of reporters Ed Burns and Jack Vaughan in this week's edition of the Talking Data podcast. They discussed a recent MIT workshop, held at the behest of President Barack Obama.

The president, facing mounting criticism in the wake of NSA surveillance disclosed by former government IT contractor Edward Snowden, had called in January for a broad-ranging review of U.S. intelligence programs. That review includes a look at the growing phenomenon of big data in commerce and its effects on civil liberties.

The civil liberties issues took a bit of a back seat to technical matters at the recent MIT workshop. It was not surprising that a major topic at the one-day event was data encryption, given the deep lineage MIT has in encryption research.

Shafi Goldwasser, a Turing Award winner and professor at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, told attendees that recent advances in processing encrypted data may form a means to effectively hide data, but in a way such that it can later be retrieved. Also discussed was differential privacy, which seeks to make data available for querying without revealing the actual data source.

Both Burns and Vaughan said the event had worthwhile technical content, but they were looking to see a more full-fledged discussion of civil liberties in future big data privacy workshops.

The podcast also considered the efforts of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health to build standards for sharing gene data for research. The reporters noted that the approach the alliance likely will take will be a distributed cloud-based data service, as the cost of moving thousands of data representations of individuals' genomes is still prohibitive.

Included in the alliance are such institutions as the American Association for Cancer Research and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, as well as technology companies such as IBM and EMC. Vaughan said he spoke with InterSystems Inc., which recently joined the alliance.

Jack Vaughan is SearchDataManagement's news and site editor. Email him at, and follow us on Twitter: @sDataManagement.

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