Privacy Protection and Accuracy of Spatial Information: How Effective are Geographical Masks?

Abstract

Spatial analysis and mapping of georeferenced individual-level data can help identify important geographical patterns or lead to significant knowledge for dealing with specific problems in a particular area. There are many examples in spatial epidemiology (e.g. Dr. Snow’s investigation of London’s cholera outbreak in 1854). However, given the common perception of GIS as a privacy threat and the need or legal requirement for preserving the confidentiality of microdata (Armstrong 2002; Dobson 1998), the possibility for undertaking geographical analysis on certain types of individual-level data (e.g. health data) is becoming increasingly circumscribed. As a result of the restricted access to confidential data, many needs for understanding critical geographical patterns may be left unfulfilled.

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