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DARPA is trying to reinvent online privacy

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You can't help but admire DARPA's tech, even when it could track you down and murder you. However, the military agency's latest program actually wants to make it harder to find folks and their valuable data. Named after right-to-privacy pioneer, Supreme Court Judge Louis Dembitz Brandeis, the Brandeis program "would allow individuals, enterprises and US government agencies to keep personal and/or proprietary information private." We imagine that the emphasis is on "government agencies," though DARPA said its systems would work for everybody. Reading between the lines, we'd say the US government has seen one too many cyber-attacks, and wants its top eggheads on the job protecting confidential information.

DARPA said that with current methods of protection, "most consumers do not have effective mechanisms to protect their own data, and the people with whom we share data are often not effective at providing adequate protection." As an example, it referred to the recent theft of 80 million social security numbers from health insurance provider Anthem. It added that security systems that are actually strong enough to prevent data theft often "deplete the larger value of the information at hand" by restricting access excessively.

Most consumers do not have effective mechanisms to protect their own data, and the people with with whom we share data are often not effective at providing adequate protection.

The potential benefits of such data protection are huge, according to the mad science division. For one, if researchers could access your genetic information with no risk of revealing your identity, they could tailor medical therapy to your individual genetics. In another example, cities could be made more energy- and traffic-efficient if data from companies, individuals and government could safely be crowdsourced.

While DARPA has no specific plan, it's now soliciting private proposals with the aim of running three 18-month trial phases. It "seeks to explore how users can understand, interact with and control data in their systems and in cyberspace... (with) intended benefits such as 'only share photos with approved family and friends.' " The goal is to completely remake data privacy within four-and-a-half years -- a tall order, but DARPA has a pretty decent track record in difficult projects.

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