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New Future of Privacy Forum Study Finds the City of Seattle’s Open Data Program Continues to Protect Public Privacy

Washington, DC – Today, the Future of Privacy Forum released its City of Seattle Open Data Risk Assessment. The Assessment provides tools and guidance to the City of Seattle and other municipalities navigating the complex policy, operational, technical, organizational, and ethical standards that support privacy-protective open data programs.

“Although there is a growing body of research on open data privacy, open data managers and departmental data owners need to be able to employ a standardized methodology for assessing the privacy risks and benefits of particular datasets,” said Kelsey Finch, FPF Policy Counsel and lead author of the Assessment.

“The City of Seattle made the decision to be ‘Open by Preference,’ making it possible for problem solvers outside of government to help us find solutions to civic challenges and improve our community’s quality of life. At the same time, we must honor the privacy of those reflected in our data. We are proud to have partnered with the Future of Privacy Forum on this effort to make sure we can both open our data and maintain the public’s trust in how we collect and use their data,” said Michael Mattmiller, Chief Technology Officer, City of Seattle.

To address inherent privacy risks in the open data landscape, the Assessment includes a Model Open Data Benefit-Risk Analysis, which evaluates the types of data contained in a proposed open dataset, the potential benefits – and concomitant risks – of releasing the dataset publicly, and strategies for effective de-identification and risk mitigation. This holistic assessment guides city officials to determine whether to release the dataset openly, in a limited access environment, or to withhold it from publication (absent countervailing public policy considerations).

“By optimizing its internal processes and procedures, developing and investing in advanced statistical disclosure control strategies, and following a flexible, risk-based assessment process, the City of Seattle – and other municipalities nationwide – can build mature open data programs that maximize the utility and openness of civic data while minimizing privacy risks to individuals and addressing community concerns about ethical challenges, fairness, and equity,” Finch said.

“The City of Seattle is very grateful to the Future of Privacy Forum for their comprehensive privacy risk assessment of our open data program, and for providing a framework within which we can enhance our existing privacy protections when releasing open data to the public,” said David Doyle, Open Data Manager, City of Seattle. “We are excited to be continually improving our open data program maturity levels where needed, and to continue to act as a role model for other municipal governments when mitigating for privacy risk during the process of releasing open data.”

FPF found that the City of Seattle Open Data Program has developed and managed robust and innovative policies around data quality, public engagement, and transparency. Specifically:

  • The City of Seattle is a national leader in privacy program management.
  • The Seattle Open Data Program has developed and managed robust and innovative policies around data quality, public engagement, and transparency.
  • The Seattle Open Data Program is working to enhance its policies and procedures for consistently assessing the benefits and risks of releasing particular datasets and for assessing and mitigating re-identification risks in open data.

Currently, both Seattle’s Open Data and Privacy programs are already collaborating on a number of initiatives related to recommendations called out in the report. Additionally, the programs are also implementing an updated internal process for reviewing new open datasets for privacy risks based on the Model Open Data Benefit Risk Analysis framework. The City of Seattle is committed to this work as part of the 2018 Open Data Plan. In the coming weeks, both Open Data and Privacy programs will assess what additional recommendations to commit to addressing in 2018 and beyond.

“The City of Seattle is one of the most innovative cities in the country, with an engaged and civic-minded citizenry, active urban leadership, and a technologically sophisticated business community,” said Finch. “By continuing to complement its growing Open Data Program with robust privacy protections and policies, the City of Seattle will be able to fulfill that program’s goals, supporting civic innovation while protecting individual privacy.”


The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a non-profit organization that serves as a catalyst for privacy leadership and scholarship, advancing principled data practices in support of emerging technologies. Learn more about FPF by visiting