What initially drew you to write about the tradeoff of data privacy and the use of data for the public good?
There are two parts to this question. Why write a book on data privacy and why on the topic for the public good? To answer the first question, there are still few communication materials about data privacy, or methods of safely releasing confidential data publicly while preserving the privacy of those who are in the data. Why the focus on the public good? Although this version of data privacy may not seem as exciting as others, such as cybersecurity, it affects every person’s life through major public policy decisions in the United States. When I wrote the book, the world was (and still is) experiencing a global pandemic that has caused severe economic and health public policy issues in most countries, including the United States. If researchers and public policymakers had access to tax and health data, they could better target and coordinate stimulus relief programs to help all American residents. But many public policymakers do not understand the tradeoff between data privacy and public good. Therefore, I decided the intended audience for my book includes anyone interested in learning more about this area of data privacy without a mathematics background. Specifically, public data users, people working within the state and federal government who are not as familiar with data privacy preserving methods, and public policymakers who want and need to learn more about data privacy methods to make more informed policy decisions.
Claire McKay Bowen is the lead data scientist for privacy and data security at the Urban Institute. Her research focuses on developing and assessing the quality of differentially private data synthesis methods and science communication. She holds a BS in mathematics and physics from Idaho State University and an MS and PhD in statistics from the University of Notre Dame. After completing her PhD, Bowen worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she investigated cosmic ray effects on supercomputers. In 2021, the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies identified her as an emerging leader in statistics for her “contributions to the development and broad dissemination of statistics and data science methods and concepts, particularly in the emerging field of data privacy, and for leadership of technical initiatives, professional development activities, and educational programs.”