As the White House tries to push more government datasets into the public domain through its trademark Data.gov website, one challenge it has faced is the so-called mosaic effect, Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra told an advisory council Friday.
The mosaic effect is when pieces of data are innocuous on their own but cause a security breach when pulled together.
The term is usually used to refer to national or corporate security. Indeed, whenever the CIO's office releases any sensitive data sets, say from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Security Council weighs in on the process, Kundra said.
In the age of social media, though, it's much easier to combine data points from, say, a National Institutes of Health study on the prevalence of a certain disease with readily available Facebook information to identify the one person in a particular small town suffering from a particular disease.
"There's a lot of information available online that wasn't available before and when you take that data and start to combine it with data sets, you can identify people that don't want to be identified or don't feel like they signed up for this," Kunda told members of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
"We struggle with that," he said, "because the true value lies at the intersection of multiple data sets."