Happy Birthday, Bill Weld

Bill Weld turns 73 today. If elected president in 2020, he would be the oldest president to take the office in US history by five years.

Reason: “Yeah, Bill Weld Is Totally Running for the Libertarian Presidential Nod in 2020”

Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine interview Bill Weld at one of any aspiring Libertarian Party nominee’s obligatory campaign stops, FreedomFest. Related article and other podcast formats here.

Data Security/Privacy: Pollyanna Weld

Looking back to 1996, it’s easy to understand how one might have been overly optimistic about the ability to secure data or at least to prevent the extraction of personal information from anonymized data.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth looking back at who did or didn’t “get” the stakes and likely outcomes, and what they might or might not have learned from their mistakes.

The Guardian’s Olivia Solon discusses that history (“‘Data is a fingerprint’: why you aren’t as anonymous as you think online,” 07/13/2018):

“It’s convenient to pretend it’s hard to re-identify people, but it’s easy. The kinds of things we did are the kinds of things that any first-year data science student could do,” said Vanessa Teague, one of the University of Melbourne researchers to reveal the flaws in the open health data.

One of the earliest examples of this type of privacy violation occurred in 1996 when the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission released “anonymised” data showing the hospital visits of state employees. As with the Australian data, the state removed obvious identifiers like name, address and social security number. Then the governor, William Weld, assured the public that patients’ privacy was protected.

Latanya Sweeney, a computer science grad who later became the chief technology officer at the Federal Trade Commission, showed how wrong Weld was by finding his medical records in the data set. Sweeney used Weld’s zip code and birth date, taken from voter rolls, and the knowledge that he had visited the hospital on a particular day after collapsing during a public ceremony, to track him down. She sent his medical records to his office.

What did Bill Weld learn from getting publicly pantsed like that? Apparently that he could use the difficulty of maintaining online privacy to increase the power of government.