Computing on Encrypted Data

Professor Nigel Smart

Wednesday 29 January 2014 17:00 - 18:30

Balliol College, University of Oxford, Lecture Room XXIII.

Registration is not required for these seminars. The seminars run from 17:00 to 18:30 on Wednesdays, starting on October 23, 2013 and held on alternate weeks during Michaelmas Term (i.e. Oct 23, Nov 6, Nov 20 and Dec 4, 2013); they will continue during Hilary and Trinity Terms 2014 with the closing workshop on June 18, 2014. For any queries, please contact: arthur.thomas@oii.ox.ac.uk

This event is part of Balliol Interdisciplinary Institute and OII Seminar Series on Privacy Issues in Genomic Medicine

Abstract

In this talk, Professor Smart will outline the current technical approaches to computing on encrypted data, some of which are only (currently) theoretically possible, and some of which are practical with today's technology. The different use cases and security goals and models will be discussed.

About the Seminar Series

The rapidly-declining cost of genomic sequencing promises many breakthroughs in our understanding of genetic predisposition to disease and for the development of medical treatments more precisely tailored to the individual patient. Much of this genomic data will end up in databases maintained by research and healthcare organisations (and increasingly by commercial "personal genomics" companies) which will have the ethical and legal responsibilities for preserving the privacy of such sensitive information. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that it is much more difficult than was first imagined to preserve the privacy of such information. Many existing methods for "de-identifying" or "anonymising" such data have been shown to be fragile: correlation of information from genomic databases, electronic health records and public sources such as genealogy and residence databases can often lead to surprisingly accurate inferences about the identities of individuals. If such information were to becomes widely available, it might compromise the ability of individuals to obtain health and life insurance, and might influence employment and even personal relationship decisions. Such information leakage might also well have a significant chilling effect on the public's willingness to participate in research and clinical studies.

We are organising a series of seminars, funded by the Balliol Interdisciplinary Institute, to examine the current state of information privacy in this domain, and to look in particular at several questions:

  • To what extent can technology keep up with the arms race between "hackers" and data curators? Will recent advances in cryptography, database security architectures and "privacy preserving" data mining methods mitigate the risks, now and in the future?

  • What is the current state of legislation and regulation in this domain, and how is it likely to evolve in the face of developing attacks on privacy? Who actually owns and has control over genomic (and related health) data and its uses? Are there significant national and cultural differences which need to be taken into account (especially when data storage may transcend jurisdictional boundaries e.g. when data are stored in commercial "clouds")?

  • To what extent does the appearance of patient-centric disease management portals such as PatientsLikeMe mitigate the concerns about privacy? Will patients' altruistic urge to share information about themselves, their disease and their interactions with the healthcare system outweigh their concerns about their personal privacy? What is the appropriate balance between the public good which results from data sharing and the potential private loss?

  • What changes need be made to informed consent protocols to ensure that both researchers and donors fully understand and accept the risks associated with data collection and use?

  • If, as Scott McNealy (former CEO of Sun Microsystems) once said "Privacy is dead ñ get used to it," and privacy is doomed to lose the arms race, what is the impact likely to be on public attitudes towards, and expectations of, personal genomic privacy? In a world where people are willing to commit intimate personal information to Facebook, should we even worry about the consequences of loss of genomic privacy? Or should we rather be addressing the issues inherent in completely open sharing of such information?

Answers to some or all of the above questions would have a profound impact on the practice of scientific research and medicine. A clear analysis of the risks, methods for mitigating those risks, and, alternatively, of the consequences of a deliberate policy of transparency, will help policy makers to develop realistic approaches to public education about, and the setting of guidelines for future research on, and exploitation of, personal genomic information.

About the speaker

Professor Nigel Smart

University of Bristol

Nigel Smart received a BSc degree in mathematics from the University of Kent at Canterbury in 1989. He then obtained his PhD degree from the University of Kent at Canterbury in 1992; his thesis was titled The Computer Solutions of Diophantine Equations. He proceeded to work as a research fellow at the University of Kent, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and Cardiff University until 1995. From 1995 to 1997 he was a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Kent, and then spent three years in industry at HP from 1997 to 2000. Since 2000 he has been at the University of Bristol, and he heads the cryptology research group there.  Smart held a Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award (2008-2013), and an ERC Advanced Grant (2011-2016). He is a director of the International Association of Cryptologic Research (2012-2014), and has been elected Vice President for the period 2014-2017.