Agencies challenged to balance data sharing and security, experts say


Agencies are on the hook to publicly release more digital data in a way that protects citizen’s personal information and does not comprise government security.

One challenge, however, will be determining how that data could be combined with existing public data to identify an individual or pose other security risks to agencies, according to experts speaking at ACT-IAC’s annual Management of Change conference this week.

“The awareness is there, the concern is there, [but]the practice of it is relatively immature,” said Mike Howell, deputy program manager in the Office of the Program Manager of the Information Sharing Environment. “The policy framework around how you prevent inadvertent aggregation of personal identifiable information [and]sensitive information, it’s a known problem. It’s good that people are paying attention, but it becomes incumbent on whoever the aggregator is what they do with that information.”

Howell, whose office falls under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, highlighted the administration’s recent Open Data policy that refers to this issue as the mosaic effect. The policy memo, released this month, directs agencies to:

Consider other publicly available data –in any medium and from any source-to determine whether some combination of existing data and the data intended to be’ publicly released could allow for the identification of an individual or pose another security concern.

The challenge for many agencies, however, is they’re struggling to understand what data they have let alone what data is already in the public domain.

According to the policy, “it is the responsibility of each agency to perform the necessary analysis and comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and policies. In some cases, this assessment may affect the amount, type, form, and detail of data released by agencies.”

There’s a natural tension between releasing open data and securing it, said Donna Roy, an executive director in the Department of Homeland Security’s Information Sharing Environment Office.

Agencies have been instructed to:

– Collect or create only that information necessary for the proper performance of agency functions and has practical utility.

– Limit the collection or creation of information that identifies individuals to what is legally authorized and necessary for the proper performance of agency functions.

– Limit the sharing of information that identifies individuals or contains proprietary information to what is legally authorized.



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