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Privacy Engineering

Too often the necessary controls and measures to protect personal information required by a process, application, or system are either ignored or bolted on at the 11th hour of development. When this happens, it usually results in poor user experience, with subpar protections, unnecessary overhead, and customer dissatisfaction.

This is not a wishful or hopeful book about the management of data centers or leadership. This is a practical and pragmatic book that charts out an approach allowing for innovation from many workbenches—legal, technical, political, artistic, or logical. We can call these disciplines, when they come together to create something that promotes the best of data privacy, the innovative and beneficial uses of personal information or those that chase out uncertainty and risk to data wherever possible: privacy engineering.

“Engineering” has been defined by the Engineers Council for Professional Development as the creative application of “scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation, and safety to life and property.[1]

Privacy engineering as a discrete discipline or field of inquiry and innovation may be defined as using engineering principles and processes to build controls and measures into processes, systems, components, and products that enable the authorized, fair, and legitimate processing of personal information.

Privacy engineering may also be applied to the creative innovation process to manage increasingly more complex data streams and datasets that describe individual humans. Privacy engineering can be considered the gathering and application of privacy requirements with the same primacy as other traditional feature or process requirements and then incorporating, prioritizing, and addressing them at each stage of

the development lifecycle, whether its for a process, project, product, system, application, or other.

The intent of privacy engineering is to close the gap between privacy policy and the reality of systems or technologies or processes. The greater the mismatch between the two, the greater the opportunity for needless inefficiencies, risk, or both.

The risk of failure to follow a privacy engineering approach will be discussed in greater detail in later chapters. In short, poor system design, poor policy requirement gathering, or poor communication (which are the hallmarks of design without privacy engineering techniques) may cause risk or harm to the inventors of such systems, the owners of them, and the individuals described or implicated by the data, or all of the above. Further, the monetary, reputational, organizational, or even criminal risks or harms will only increase for those who fail to recognize a privacy engineering approach as systems become more complex and personal data more valued.

Privacy engineering is not merely a call for mindful engineering where personal information is involved. The call for privacy engineering use and study is a call for leadership, innovation, and even a good measure of courage to change the status quo for design and information management.

Once every system owner, designer, and user expects and understands privacy engineering principles, we expect that privacy engineering will become so integrated into standard innovation cycles that there will be no need for reference to a discrete practice. Rather, the principles of privacy engineering will be an obvious and necessary part of engineering of any kind when personal information is involved or potentially involved.

When privacy engineering becomes ubiquitous, individuals will not be treated as “inventory,” and data about them will be viewed as a special asset, important, sometimes profitable, and always one with a fundamental ethical value. When this happens, systems that use personal information will be designed, implemented, and decommissioned accordingly.

However, to accelerate the arrival of this day and the ability to safely unlock the rewards of the Internet and the personal information service economy, there is an urgent need for leadership and for stakeholders to act expeditiously in adopting and extending the vision of privacy engineering as articulated throughout this book. Getting to privacy engineering ubiquity will require many acts of courage and cunning. But, as clearly articulated by Ford Prefect in Douglas Adams's A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, “Don't Panic” and always carry a towel. Please consider this book your towel.

so far, most of the individuals who have gone to jail for data privacy violations have been hackers, spammers, identity thieves, and peeping toms. unless related to large or multimillion dollar operations, most of the convictions do not receive wide-scale coverage in the mainstream media attention. it is the same with data breaches, which, unfortunately, are increasingly commonplace and thus less newsworthy.

But jail isn't the only possible repercussion for misbehaving in the privacy space and getting caught. increasingly, corporations and organizations are being cited for privacy violations and are being fined, given sanctions, being placed under regulatory supervision, or pilloried in the public square of opinion. some of these fines have been in the multimillion dollar range, required recoding of software and data deletions, resulted in multiyear sanctions requiring biannual privacy audits being submitted to regulatory authorities for review, or caused a decline in shareholder value.

We propose that privacy engineers take responsibility for:

• Designing and constructing processes, products, and systems with privacy in mind that appropriately collect or use personal information

• Supporting the development, implementation, and measurement of privacy policies, standards, guidelines, and rules

• Analyzing software and hardware designs and implementation from a privacy and user experience perspective

• Supporting privacy audits

• Working with other stakeholders to ensure privacy requirements are met outside as well as inside the engineering space

We propose that privacy engineers, in addition to better protecting and ensuring the proper use of personal information in the things they design, build, and implement, will provide the following benefits to individuals, as well as government and business enterprises:

• Protection for customers, users, or citizens

• A more objective basis for a trusted data platform

• A foundation to drive more thoughtful and higher-quality personal information services, sharing, and engagement

These benefits can lead to better and more information from users, which in turn helps to build and inspire better user experiences, better applications, better services, better products, and greater innovation.

Before we get into the toolbox for privacy engineering or the implications privacy engineering has for organizational design, let's explore some key privacy concepts and frameworks.

  • [1] britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/187549/engineering
 
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