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Technology Policy & Ethics – May 2018

Semantic Web in the Age of Big Data: A Perspective

Will we drown in a data tsunami or enter a knowledge utopia?

By: Syed Ahmad Chan Bukhari, Ali Kashif Bashir, and Khalid Mahmood Malik

We are awash with “Big Data” to this very day because of the technological advancements made during the past decade. The notion of Big Data1 refers to the datasets which are gigantic in size to be processed by conventional databases and management techniques (volume), are extremely diverse so that no single data model can capture all elements of the data (variety) and are produced or gathered at an unprecedented scale (velocity)1. Because of this sheer volume, variety, and velocity of big data, enterprises are facing data heterogeneity, diversity and complexity challenges. However, this big data era came with big opportunities by resolving the associated challenges, so it could transform our traditional way of decision-making. Enterprises with the technical expertise of managing big data are now replacing their usual guesswork and laborious legacy data modeling based decision making processes with facts derived from big data2.

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Ethical Issues in Secondary Use of Personal Health Information

By: Thomas Gallagher, Kudakwashe Dube, and Scott McLachlan

The accessibility of personal health information (PHI) will increase on the Internet of the future to provide timely support for both primary and secondary uses. Although PHI for secondary uses is generally anonymized, its widespread distribution on the Internet raises ethical concerns. The PHI should remain an individual’s most closely guarded asset1, 2. While other forms of personal data represent what the person does, owns, or knows, PHI represents what the person is. PHI describes the biological attributes of the human being, often containing longitudinal records of wellness, illness, test results, and treatments3. These characteristics amplify the seriousness and un-reversible consequences that uniquely differentiate breaches or disclosures of PHI data from other forms of data breach. In conducting risk assessment analysis, the result of even a single PHI data breach can be catastrophic. As it is impossible to place a price on our health, it is similarly impossible to place a price on PHI. Risk assessments calculations4 involving annual loss expectancy, single loss expectancy, or annualized rate of occurrence are irrelevant when PHI has been breached. In light of this, the questions of: (1) granting the patient the right to consent, that is, opt-in or out, of the de-identification and subsequent secondary use of their PHI; and (2) finding synthetic alternatives to de-identified PHI for certain type of secondary uses to protect patient privacy, urgently need to be addressed.

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