DARPA to pursue new privacy tools

DARPA to pursue 'revolutionary' privacy tools

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is opening up a program this week to fund research into solving a basic disconnect in the marketplace: the failure so far of efforts to create a system to allow individuals, enterprises and government agencies to keep personal and/or proprietary information private.

In a program named the Brandeis project, after the former U.S. Supreme Court justice and champion of privacy rights Louis Brandeis, DARPA said it aims to develop technologies with “revolutionary” impact that could help bridge privacy gaps that currently hamper collaboration and technology development.

Exiting methods for protecting data privacy – often by filtering the release of data at the source, or trusting a user of the data for protection – have proven inadequate, said DARPA, as algorithms have been developed that match passwords with public information to reidentify an individual.

Instead, the Brandeis project aims to “break the tension between maintaining privacy and being able to tap into the huge value of data,” said DARPA program manager John Launchbury. “Rather than having to balance these public goods, Brandeis aims to build a third option, enabling safe and predictable sharing of data while reliably preserving privacy.” 

The goal of the Brandeis program is to develop tools and techniques that enable systems to be built in which private data may be technologically protected so that it can only be used for its intended purpose and no other, according to a broad agency announcement of the program.

“It seeks to restructure our relationship with data by shifting the mechanisms for data protection to the data owner rather than the data user, DARPA said.

The Brandeis program will structured as a four-and-a-half year effort, split into three 18-month phases.  Each phase will “result in the demonstration of experimental systems that show privacy technologies at work,” said DARPA.

The program will focus on four technical areas:

Privacy-preserving computation. This part Brandeis project will address the limits of current computational privacy methods so that future system designers can use them as flexible building blocks in practical systems.  Other research goals include scaling techniques to data sizes that occur in practical situations and developing mechanisms “to leverage a small amount of private computation for a large computational effect. “

Human data interaction. Although human computer interaction has been widely explored by computer science researchers, this area of the Brandeis project proposes to develop tools and techniques to  give data owners a way to decide how their data should be used, DARPA said in its BAA.

Experimental systems. This area of research aims to build experimental systems on which to test the ideas of privacy-preserving computation and human data interaction.

Metrics and analysis.  This section aims to develop a set of metrics that can quantify the privacy benefits and costs of a system as well as develop analysis tools to assess the privacy technologies developed by Brandeis research teams in the experimental systems.

Subject to the availability of funding, DARA said, the program is intended to last for 54 months. The estimated start date is Sept. 1, 2015.

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