Pseudonymisation, mobile and ‘the cloud’

Posted Posted by Martin Peacock in Cloud, Infrastructure, Mobile     Comments No comments

I note a press release from the Information Commissioner’s Office publishing a code of best practice when it comes to data anonymisation, as well as the launch of a new body (UKAN) to promote said best practice.

While this is largely focussed on aggregate (e.g. statistical / epidemiology) practices, anonymisation (and more specifically, pseudonymisation) is an important topic in the conversation around the two big buzzwords of the day – ‘mobile’ and ‘cloud’

Mobile applications – particularly when combined with BYOD – has security issues. That much we all know, and there are solutions to those issues that are, by now, well understood, including encryption, virtualisation, compartmentalisation and zero-footprint-client.  But these come with compromises and issues of their own.  It would of course be simpler in terms of deployment and performance if native apps could be used without concerns over information security.  This is where pseudonymisation has a benefit – on the way to the device, all identifiable data is replaced with ‘alternative identities’, with the relationship between the original and alternative only known to a trusted system (aka ‘the server’).  On the way back, the original identity(ies) is restored and no privacy issues accrue.

But this may be more important ‘in the cloud’.  Access to patient data through the NHS IGSoC process demands careful planning and implementation of best-practice security measures (rightly so), and it is virtually (if not downright) impossible to ship Persoanlly Identifiable Data (PID) to locations outside the UK.  For the cloud, that is a problem.  Very often, restricting the location of data to within the UK will mean many of the benefits of cloud are not realisable. In some cases, it means that the choice of infrastructure supplier is limited and in some situations – potentially valuable services made entirely irrelevant.

A cloudy service launched in the US, for example, will often choose an infrastructure provider based in the US. That isn’t much good for organisations in the UK who cannot store PID outside the UK.  Pseudonymisation offers a way forward for those situations.

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