Let´s fix research subject privacy concerns for good!
Smart contracts can be used to prove that data postprocessing is done in a certain way and only in a certain way, even without revealing the whole transaction process on the blockchain (or miners) (* limitations see below). This opens up novel possibilities to maintain data autonomy and subject privacy in healthcare research. For example, subject data could be sent to a smart contract that is openly (widely) available and which has been reviewed by an ethics committee. The smart contract releases subject data only after a privacy preserving amount of subjects has been averaged or only after a certain time period. Furthermore, the fundamental problem of identity information which is being contained in the data itself (face, genome, etc.) could be solved, because the smart contract just won´t look for it.
This can lead to a fundamental shift in the way we think about privacy in healthcare research: Who do we trust some data to do all with TO which smart contract do we trust all data to do something with it. Or as James Littlejohn states “Instead of bringing the data to the processing, we will bring the processing to the data!”
The privacy and data autonomy could become so convincing that it might become ethically justifiable that all patient/subject data could automatically contribute to public health research. Applications are humongous! And here presents the blockchain solution of distributed, provable trust a perfect technological answer to the socio-cultural challenge of subject privacy trust…
We will work on the implementation of this potential, communication as well as its legal-ethical challenges.
- We are not there yet! Blockchain is based on the mutual confirmation of a status through nodes. Therefore, the subject data needs to be revealed to more players than in current privacy schemes. But, blockchain, evolving zero-knowledge proofs, etc. create an environment in which novel concepts might become available quite soon with very interesting novel trade-offs between entities that need to be trusted, means of how subject privacy is assured, etc. We stay alert!
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