Latanya Sweeney, Ph.D.

As Professor of Government and Technology in Residence at Harvard University, I am a computer scientist working with world-renowned government scholars. This unique cross-fertilization has been fantastic at every turn! Our mission is create and use technology to assess and solve societal, political and governance problems, and to teach others how to do the same. One focus area is data privacy, and I am the Director of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard. There are other foci too.

Prior success

Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science, Technology and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, founder and director of the Data Privacy Lab, and an elected fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, with almost 100 academic publications, 2 patents, citations in the Federal Register for 2 regulations, and 3 company spin-offs. I have received professional and academic awards, and testified before federal and international government bodies. In 2009, through a national GAO search, I was appointed to the privacy and security seat of the Federal Health Information Technology Policy Committee.

Historically, I have made numerous cross-disciplinary contributions to privacy technology having significant scientific influence and real-world impact. Scientific American profiled my earlier work (profile). My greatest impact has been in medical privacy ( medical informatics, policy and law). My most cited statistic is "87% of the U.S. population is uniquely identified by {date of birth, gender, postal code}" [cite]. My most cited academic work is k-anonymity. An index of my work, across disciplines and scientific areas, appears here and a brief summary appears below. Also, here is my bio and CV.


I began professional life as CEO of a network of computer start-ups. During those 10 years, I developed innovative algorithms that seemed to push the bounds of computing at the time. A particular emphasis was on semantic learning tasks. My intellectual property from those early days is included in this list of artifacts.

In my earliest academic work, I created systems that automatically learn strategic and sensitive information from data, and the converse, I created systems that control what can be learned. Most often, this related personal identity to seemingly innocents facts (re-identification and de-identification). The broader goal is to create systems that give guarantees that identity cannot be learned ("anonymity") while still making sure the results remain useful.

In the 2000's, I worked with computer scientists who pioneered privacy-invasive technologies and scholars who designed related policy, believing these groups were in the best positions to solve privacy-technology clashes through design. My approach was to identify a privacy-technology clash within a community, formulate a privacy problem statement, and then offer a solution to the problem as an exemplar to seed privacy-preserving work within the originating community. In computer science, these were: medical informatics, database security, surveillance, vision, and biometrics. Related communities outside computer science were: policy and law, and public education.

As part of an extended sabbatical from Carnegie Mellon, I began my "privacy rethink" at Harvard in 2009. The goal is to replace the 3 historical pillars of privacy (consent, notice, and de-identification) with new technology-powered mechanisms that jointly provide a privacy fabric appropriate for today's setting. We want society to reap the benefits of emerging technologies while enjoying privacy protection. Testbeds for these new systems (MyDataCan, theDataMap, and more) are rolling out over the next months, so stay tuned.

Academic Positions

Corporate Affiliations

    No issued licenses limit my access to these technologies for academic purposes.

  • Privacert has licenses to some of my technologies and is using these licenses to make the methods and results openly accessible.
  • Hand ID owns patents to some technologies created by my colleagues and me. I maintain some ownership interest and hold an official position.
  • CITC has licenses to some of my technologies. I maintain no ownership interest or hold any official position. I do maintain sufficient involvement to assure my technology is being properly deployed.
  • Datanon, LLC had licenses to some of my technologies, which are now available through Privacert, Inc.

Research Interest

Contact Information for Latanya Sweeney

Latanya Sweeney
Harvard University
1737 Cambridge Street, K310
Cambridge, MA 02138

Phone: (617) 496-3629
Fax: (617) 496-5149

On the light side...

Fall 2012.