Research Accomplishments of Latanya Sweeney, Ph.D.


Medical Informatics
      Genomic identifiability
      Patient-centered management

Database Security

      Risk assessment server

      Face de-identification

      Contactless capture

Policy and Law
      Identifiability of de-identified data
      HIPAA assessments
      Privacy-preserving surveillance

Public Education
      Identity angel

Quantitative assessments

Latanya Sweeney is a computer scientist with a long history of weaving technology and policy together to remove stakeholder barriers to technology adoption. For this reason, she terms what she does as "computational policy" and herself a "computer (cross) policy" scientist. She has demonstrated success at creating technology that weaves with policy to resolve real-world technology-privacy clashes.

How it started

Dr. Sweeney reports that as long as she can remember, she always wanted to be a mathematician, saying that she was drawn to the certainty of truth realized through mathematical formalisms. In high school (Dana Hall Schools in Wellesley, Massachusetts) she was introduced to her first computer, and the certainty she enjoyed with math took physical form in programming --the logical thought process led to real-world programs. She believed she could get a computer to solve any problem. This integration of creativity, mathematical certainty, and real-world applicability seems to have powered her pursuits from that point forward.

Prior success

Dr. Sweeney is a 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. She has 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.

Current mission

Dr. Sweeney believes that the historic approaches to the 3 pillars of privacy (consent, notice, and de-identification) are failing to address privacy in today's data-rich networked world. Her current mission is to replace them. Her goal is to help society create and deploy technology-powered mechanisms that jointly provide a privacy fabric appropriate for today's setting. The goal is to allow society to reap the benefits of emerging technologies while enjoying privacy protection.

Current strategy

Dr. Sweeney looks to the promise of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ("the stimulus bill") to provide a unique moment in history for technology design to reshape privacy discourse and not be held to historic, eroding trade-offs. As she says, "one technology design decision can ease numerous policy decisions, but once policy becomes set in stone, the opposite happens, the opportunity for innovation is often lost." For technology design to transform privacy governance, Dr. Sweeney seeks efforts that weave technology and policy together. Working with collaborators, her targets are: (1) trustworthy designs for nationwide health information exchange; (2) a privacy-powered data-sharing testbed; and, (3) small-scale efforts that inform and educate public discourse on this topic.


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Fall 2009