Just make sure you keep challenging yourself intellectually, and think about how to use your ‘nerd’ privileges to make the world a better place.

Darakhshan Mir

When you drive through an EZ-Pass tollgate, what information might your transponder be sharing about you? Routine interactions like this are full of opportunities for data collection, making personal privacy a topic of increasing concern.

"Technology touches just about every aspect of our lives," says Professor Darakhshan Mir, computer science, whose research focuses on data privacy. "Yet there is still no overarching definition for privacy." The answer, she says, must involve many perspectives beyond computer science. "

Discussions about people's data and the relevant privacy and ownership issues are inextricably linked with questions that have traditionally been within the purview of other disciplines such as sociology, ethics, law, philosophy and psychology," she says. "Privacy researchers in computer science are fast realizing that they need to do the hard work of reaching out to, learning from and sustaining dialogue with these disciplines."

As an example of how easy it is to learn a lot about an individual through anonymous data, Mir cites a past study she conducted with a group of students using anonymized geo-location data generated by over a million vehicles entering an area of Milan over two months in 2013.

"We looked at data from three randomly chosen points over the time span of an hour," she explains. "With that, we could identify 87 percent of anonymous tollgate users. Suddenly, all the innocuous data collected by your EZ-Pass doesn't seem so innocuous after all."

Mir's belief in the importance of approaching the challenges of her field from different angles helped attract her to Bucknell. "I am a strong proponent of interdisciplinary approaches to teaching computer science, and being at a liberal arts institution gives me the perfect opportunity to do just that," she says. "I love that my introductory courses have many non-majors in them, and that I get to introduce computational thinking to students who may not realize what computer science is really about. Computational thinking is a window into a distinct mode of thought, and I want all my students to take a peek."

As for students majoring in computer science, Mir says they can pretty much write their own tickets. "I tell them it's easy to find a lucrative job. Just make sure you keep challenging yourself intellectually, and think about how to use your 'nerd' privileges to make the world a better place," she says with a smile.

Posted Oct. 7, 2015

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