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location privacy in public health practice


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This research is investigating algorithms for retaining confidentiality and allowing granular-level data analysis. The goal is to develop a novel transformation that incorporates all three aspects of the epidemiological triad. The epidemiological real-world domain consisting of the person, place, and time dimensions will be transformed into an epidemiological research domain, where the triad is “mapped” differently so as to preserve confidentiality, and simultaneously preserve relationships in space and time. The research will focus on the space component; since relative space is “mouldable”, existing only with reference to the spatial entities and processes under consideration, health events can therefore be interpreted as patterns and processes within specific contexts. This relative approach focuses on the health events as the subject matter, with space being measured as relationships between objects. This is an inversion of the absolute approach to space typically used in epidemiological studies as described thus far, where space becomes a fixed, underlying geometry, and therefore the subject matter in which the health events are located.

The objectives of this research are to contribute to the resolution of the public health-privacy debate by:

  1. Reviewing privacy legislation as it pertains to place and public health in Canada, the UK, and various other countries around the world
  2. Formally collecting and synthesising the perspectives and requirements of public health professionals in Canada and the UK on the current issue, with a focus on the role of place.
  3. Developing and evaluating a novel technique to allow spatial public health analysis at a granular level without compromising privacy
  4. Developing a conceptual framework to guide public health practice in the appropriate evaluation of the privacy implications of data sharing with a particular emphasis on location-privacy

The concepts and overall findings need not be limited to any particular country or health event, and have the potential to promote further research into more complex and comprehensive functional analyses involving the complete epidemiological triad. This research is unique and innovative in that it takes a holistic epidemiological approach whilst building on existing and novel technologies and concepts.


(Methods of Information in Medicine, 2011)

A Method for Managing Re-Identification Risk from Small Geographic Areas in Canada
(BMC Med Inform Decis Mak, 2010)

Musings on Privacy Issues in Health Research Involving Disaggregate Geographic Data About Individuals (Int J Health Geogr, 2009)

Evaluating Predictors of Geographic Area Population Size Cut-offs (JAMIA, 2009)

The Perceived Impact of Location Privacy
(BMC Public Health, 2008)

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reflect those of the institutions supporting this research

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©Philip AbdelMalik