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December 10, 2008

Inside the Fight for Privacy Protection

One computer scientist gets everyone involved.

Coming from a family of physicians, Dr. Annie Antón knows that protecting privacy is important.

The professor of computer science at NC State is a spokesperson for the cause, as she has become an internationally recognized expert on privacy policy in software systems. She’s breaking new ground in the field by bringing legal and technical minds together to tackle complex privacy policies, the technology that supports them, and the practices that can lead to security breaches and data leaks.

“There’s no way we can solve this problem by just sitting around in our offices with other computer scientists,” she said. “You have to talk with people in other fields. With lawyers. With lawmakers. With chief security, privacy and information executives in companies.”

Antón’s research began with analyzing privacy policies. This led to investigating data breaches and suggesting ways to prevent them. But now she’s taking it further, bringing these issues to light by speaking at panels and workshops and even testifying before Congress. She works to make information more secure by educating lawmakers and policy writers and trying to reduce the complexity of privacy policies so people can actually understand them. She’s pushing to hold companies accountable for protecting the personal information in their possession and urging them to reduce vulnerabilities in the software systems that handle it.

At NC State, she’s seeking the establishment of the Institute for Science, Technology and Engaged Public Policy (In-STEPP) to apply science, technology and engineering to public policy and to encourage university-wide communication that will extend to national interaction.

But all these endeavors start with changing mindsets and emphasizing multidisciplinary approaches.

“We’re slowly getting into the right circles and working to get lawmakers to understand—when you’re writing law, if it governs information systems and you expect us to implement software—we need to work together.”

For more information on Dr. Antón, click here.

Story by Amy Anselm. Photo by Roger Winstead. Originally published in the NC State Engineering Magazine - Fall 2008 issue.

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