​DARPA launches new-tech program to protect online privacy

Reuters/Mike Segar
The US Defense Department’s research and development agency, DARPA, is launching a new program that aims to use new tech to protect cyber privacy in the wake of several high-profile, large-scale hacks over the past year.

The Brandeis program, named for early 20th century right-to-privacy pioneer Supreme Court Judge Louis Dembitz Brandeis, “would allow individuals, enterprises and US government agencies to keep personal and/or proprietary information private,” program manager John Launchbury explained in a statement Wednesday.

Launchbury described the safeguarding of online privacy as one of today’s “most vexing problems,” noting: “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.”

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He also illustrated the need for improved privacy protection by pointing to recent massive data thefts, including hack of health insurer Anthem which resulted in the theft of 80 million social security numbers as well as last November’s devastating Sony cyber-attack.

Brandeis is planned as a four-and-half-year project, with ongoing updates up to 2020. DARPA has not released technical details of the plan, so it is not yet clear exactly what privacy protection methods will be implemented. However, the agency is currently soliciting private proposals. To start, it plans to run three 18-month trial phases. DARPA reps met with industry experts Thursday at an open Proposing Day event in Virginia.

DARPA’s announcement comes amid a wave of increased user privacy support from the US government. Last month, the White House released a discussion draft of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act, which would require all businesses that collect data to inform consumers exactly what measure they take to protect their information.

Privacy rights have been at the forefront of a worldwide debate since revelations of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance surfaced in 2013 in documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Earlier this week, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales announced that the Wikimedia Foundation was filing a complaint against the NSA. According to the complaint, the NSA’s data collection program Upstream violated privacy rights and caused the foundation serious harm.