Skip to content
Policy projects

Privacy Enhancing Technologies

26 March 2019

How can technologies help organisations and individuals protect data in practice and, at the same time, unlock opportunities for data access and use?

The Royal Society’s Privacy Enhancing Technologies project has been investigating this question and has launched a report (PDF) setting out the current use, development and limits of privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) in data analysis. 

The data we generate every day holds a lot of value and potentially also contains sensitive information that individuals or organisations might not wish to share with everyone. The protection of personal or sensitive data featured prominently in the social and ethical tensions identified in our British Academy and Royal Society report Data management and use: Governance in the 21st century. For example, how can organisations best use data for public good whilst protecting sensitive information about individuals? Under other circumstances, how can they share data with groups with competing interests whilst protecting commercially or otherwise sensitive information?

Realising the full potential of large-scale data analysis may be constrained by important legal, reputational, political, business and competition concerns.  Certain risks can potentially be mitigated and managed with a set of emerging technologies and approaches often collectively referred to as ‘Privacy Enhancing Technologies’ (PETs). 

This disruptive set of technologies, combined with changes in wider policy and business frameworks, could enable the sharing and use of data in a privacy-preserving manner. They also have the potential to reshape the data economy and to change the trust relationships between citizens, governments and companies.

This report provides a high-level overview of five current and promising PETs of a diverse nature, with their respective readiness levels and illustrative case studies from a range of sectors, with a view to inform in particular applied data science research and the digital strategies of government departments and businesses. This report also includes recommendations on how the UK could fully realise the potential of PETs and to allow their use on a greater scale.

The project was informed by a series of conversations and evidence gathering events, involving a range of stakeholders across academia, government and the private sector (also see the project terms of reference and Working Group).

On a related topic, the Royal Society also partnered with The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities to organise a workshop exploring notions of privacy as an individual and public good, how digital technologies might have changed concepts of privacy, and how individuals, organisations and societies manage privacy, including through technology. A note of discussions at this workshop (PDF) is available to download. 

Was this page useful?
Thank you for your feedback
Thank you for your feedback. Please help us improve this page by taking our short survey.