DARPA wants new tech for protecting privacy

As the cyber realm becomes an increasingly important domain of warfare, and the general public digests the implications of large-scale hacks like those of Sony and Anthem, military researchers are turning their focus onto a too-often neglected aspect of the online world: privacy.

Saying that, “[p]rivacy is critical to a free society,” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has announced a proposer’s day for a forthcoming program designed to find ways of protecting the privacy and proprietary information of people and enterprises. The event is scheduled for March 12, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Arlington, Va.

DARPA intends to name the program Brandeis, after Louis Brandeis, who with his law partner Samuel Warren in 1890 (26 years before Brandeis rose to the Supreme Court) wrote a seminal article for the Harvard Law Review, titled, “The Right to Privacy.” Generally credited as the first such piece to advocate a legal right to privacy, Brandeis and Warren eerily foreshadowed life in the modern online world.

Alarmed at the emergence of portable “instantaneous” cameras and “business methods” that threatened privacy (in this case, the rise of celebrity journalism), they argued: “Numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’” They saw this as a real threat, because privacy, they wrote, is the foundation of individual freedom.

Flash forward to today. As DARPA notes in its announcement, connected systems and the ability to amass huge amounts of personal information cuts both ways. It can help in confronting terrorists, or battling disease outbreaks or providing commercial services. But it can also leave all that personal data vulnerable, as so many hacks and data breaches have shown. “Moreover,” the agency said, “there is so much data that it is currently infeasible for individuals or enterprises to control it in a meaningful way with the information technologies available today.”

So DARPA wants to develop new technologies for protecting information while still being able to share it with the appropriate organizations, and is hoping to get some ideas from industry.

Online registration closes at 8 a.m. March 9, unless the event reaches capacity before then. Space restraints will limit the proposer’s day to the first 185 registrants.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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