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Open Data Privacy Playbook

Cities today collect and store a wide range of data that may contain sensitive or identifiable information about residents. As cities embrace open data initiatives, more of this information is available to the public. While releasing data has many important benefits, sharing data comes with inherent risks to individual privacy: released data can reveal information about individuals that would otherwise not be public knowledge.  A detailed guide from Harvard helps governments protect residents’ personal information in open-data initiatives.

To help officials balance the risks and benefits, researchers at Harvard University have created a playbook for open data, complete with best practices, examples of what has and hasn’ t worked so far, and a thorough checklist of what to consider when embarking on a new data project.

The playbook makes four main recommendations for technology officers in the municipal government, and each is broken down into what you need to know, what you need to do, and then how you do it.

  1. Conduct risk-benefit analyses to inform the design and implementation of open data programs.
  2. Consider privacy at each stage of the data lifecycle.
  3. Develop operational structures and processes that codify privacy management widely throughout the City.
  4. Emphasize public engagement and public priorities as essential aspects of data management programs.

Each chapter of this report is dedicated to one of these four recommendations  and provides fundamental context along with specific suggestions to carry them out. In particular, we provide case studies of best practices from numerous cities and a set of forms and tactics for cities to implement our recommendations. The Appendix synthesizes key elements of the report into an Open Data Privacy Toolkit that cities can use to manage privacy when releasing data.