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DARPA Is Trying To Reinvent Online Privacy

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. Department of Defense agency which was instrumental in the creation of the internet in the late sixties and which currently oversees the creation of new technologies for the United States Military, has announced the launch of a new program which will help users safeguard their personal information on the internet. The four and a half year initiative seeks to rebuild online privacy from scratch through an information system program which will guarantee that data could be used only for its intended purpose and for nothing else. DARPA has decided to brand the initiative as the Brandeis program, named after the 20th century Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who is widely regarded as one of the earliest privacy advocates in the United States.

While announcing the launch of the Brandeis initiative through a press release, program manager John Launchbury said that the goal of the program was to break the current logjam which exists between the ability to tap into valuable data and maintaining privacy. He also added that the program does not seek to balance these two things, rather it will focus on creating a new option which would facilitate sharing of data in a safe way while still preserving the privacy of those who are involved.

Elaborating on the need for such a program, DARPA said that as of now most internet users lack the ability of protecting their own data. The current mechanisms of data protection are clearly not sufficient since they cannot guarantee that we (or the people with whom we share our data) would be able to keep our data safe from theft or misuse. The agency also stated that strong data protection measures are actually counterintuitive since they deplete the value of the information by restricting access to the data. The Brandeis program would allow individuals, government agencies and enterprises to keep their private/proprietary data confidential while still providing value from the stored information.

It is important to understand here that the Brandeis program not only seeks to protect private data but also information which we willingly share with others, including third parties. However, it is not designed to protect data that may have been collected as a result of interacting with a system or network. Thus it can be safely said that the new initiative wouldn’t interfere with the surveillance capabilities of the US intelligence agencies.

If the DARPA initiative is indeed successful, it would totally revolutionize the concept of online privacy. The program would not only allow users to share their personal data without worrying about its security but also allow other parties to extract value from that information.

It is not exactly clear how DARPA plans to build the new information system. The agency has invited proposals from private organizations to explore how users understand, control and interact with data within the confines of a network as well as on the internet. The agency plans to run three initial trials of 18 months each and then work out a system which will reinvent privacy for the internet users.

August 8, 2015

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