Useful Privacy Enhancing Technologies

Project Leaders:

In today's highly connected world, in which data is so easy to collect, search, and transfer, privacy is of increasing importance. Privacy, broadly speaking, is the notion of informational self-determination; that is, the ability of a person to control information about herself: who gets access to it, for what purposes they can use it, how long they can store it, and so on.

Unfortunately, the way most communication happens today, particularly over the Internet, is quite privacy-unfriendly.When you send email, use instant messaging, or simply browse the world-wide web, information about you and your actions gets disseminated to diverse parties around the world, and you have little, if any, control over it. Companies called data brokers aggregate all available data about as many people as possible, and sell those dossiers to interested parties. Unfortunately, as the data broker Choicepoint learned when it sold dossiers on 150,000 Americans in 2005, sometimes those interested parties are criminals or identity thieves.

Privacy enhancing technologies (or PETs) aim to mitigate this problem by giving individuals the ability to more finely control the spread of information about their online actions. This work will aim to improve the current models and formalisms describing both privacy, as well as the loss of privacy. Only in the last few years has there even been a way to give a coarse measure of how much privacy a certain technology either provides, or removes from, a person. We will aim to improve these models so as to better understand the causes of, and solutions to, privacy breaches. In the same vein, we will develop useful technologies for enhancing the privacy of citizens of an electronic world.