Scott Jordan, ‘Aligning Legal Definitions of Personal Information with the Computer Science of Identifiability’

The computer science literature on identification of people using personal information paints a wide spectrum, from aggregate information that doesn’t contain information about individual people, to information that itself identifies a person. However, privacy laws and regulations often distinguish between only two types, often called personally identifiable information and de-identified information. We show that the collapse of this technological spectrum of identifiability into only two legal definitions results in the failure to encourage privacy-preserving practices. We propose a set of legal definitions that spans the spectrum.

We start with anonymous information. Computer science has created anonymization algorithms, including differential privacy, that provide mathematical guarantees that a person cannot be identified. Although the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) defines aggregate information, it treats aggregate information the same as de-identified information. We propose a definition of anonymous information based on the technological possibility of logical association of the information with other information. We argue for the exclusion of anonymous information from notice and consent requirements …

Jordan, Scott, Aligning Legal Definitions of Personal Information with the Computer Science of Identifiability (July 26, 2021).

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