The collection and analysis of information on massive scales has clear benefits for society: it can help businesses optimize online commerce, medical workers address public health issues and governments interrupt terrorist activities. Yet at the same time, respect for privacy is a cornerstone principle of our democracy. The right to privacy, as Louis Brandeis first expounded in 1890, is a consequence of modernity because we better understand that harm comes in more ways than just the physical. Numerous recent incidents involving the disclosure of data have heightened society’s awareness of the extreme vulnerability of private information within cyberspace and of the relationship of private data with personal and national security. There is a growing desire to understand, control and manage the “digital contrail” of personal information continually being produced – data that other people or organizations could exploit.
The Brandeis program seeks to develop the technical means to protect the private and proprietary information of individuals and enterprises. The vision of the Brandeis program is to break the tension between: (a) maintaining privacy and (b) being able to tap into the huge value of data. Rather than having to balance between them, Brandeis aims to build a third option – enabling safe and predictable sharing of data in which privacy is preserved.
The objective of Brandeis is to develop tools and techniques that enable us to build systems in which private data may be used only for its intended purpose and no other. It seeks to restructure our relationship with data by providing the data owner with mechanisms for protecting their data before sharing it with a data user. It will also tackle a cognitive challenge: the volume and complexity of data means that individuals or enterprises need a meaningful way to make choices about how to share data, including understanding the implications of the use of any stored data about them.
The potential impact of the Brandeis program is dramatic. Assured data privacy can open the doors to personal medicine, effective smart cities, detailed global data and fine-grained internet awareness.
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