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Stevens' Wright participates in DHS panel

September 14, 2005

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Dr. Rebecca Wright, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stevens Institute of Technology, participated in a workshop panel sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Privacy Office in Washington, D.C., September 8-9, 2005. The workshop, "Privacy and Technology: Exploring Government Use of Commercial Data for Homeland Security," consisted of five panels that brought together privacy, law and technology experts.

Wright's panel, moderated by Kenneth Mortensen, Senior Privacy Analyst at the DHS Privacy Office, addressed the question "How can technology help protect individual privacy while enabling government agencies to analyze data?" In addition to Wright, other panelists included John Bliss, Privacy Strategist of the Entity Analytic Solutions division of IBM, Michael Daconta, Metadata Program Manager at the DHS, and William Gravell, a Director of Security & Identity Management at Northrop Grumman Information Technology.

The government's use of personally identifiable data provided by commercial data aggregators can potentially be useful for protecting homeland security, but raises important privacy concerns. According to DHS Chief Privacy Officer Nuala O'Connor Kelly, this workshop is intended to inform the Privacy Office, DHS and the public about the policy, legal and technology issues surrounding the government's access and use of such information for counterterrorism and how to protect privacy given the government's need for better data analysis.

Wright described her work on the National Science Foundation-funded PORTIA project, which addresses handling of sensitive information in a networked world. Technical themes of the project include privacy-preserving data mining, which seeks to allow certain kinds of computations on data while protecting privacy concerns, and protection against identity theft, which seeks to provide better methods of handling identification and identity data that are practical to deploy yet robust against identity thieves. Wright's work on privacy-preserving data mining provides cryptographically strong methods of maintaining data privately in a distributed fashion, while allowing the distributed data holders to communicate and to compute certain kinds of results on their distributed data. "In a sense," said Wright, "this allows the results of information sharing without actually requiring the information to be shared." Other panelists described new techniques for identification, formalization of access control and privacy policies, and private matching through one-way hashing.

Other panels at the workshop addressed the questions:
  • How are government agencies using commercial data to aid in homeland security?
  • What are the privacy and legal issues raised by government use of commercial data?
  • What are the current as well as developing technologies to aid government in data analysis for homeland security?
  • How can we build privacy protections into the government's use of commercial data¨Crecommending a roadmap for DHS?

    "This kind of collaboration between government, industry and universities is extremely important in ensuring that the best possible solutions are adopted," said Wright.
    About Stevens Institute of Technology
    Established in 1870, Stevens offers baccalaureate, masters and doctoral degrees in engineering, science, computer science, management and technology management, as well as a baccalaureate in the humanities and liberal arts, and in business and technology. Located directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan, the university has enrollments of approximately 1,780 undergraduates and 2,700 graduate students, and a current enrollment of 2,250 online-learning students worldwide. Additional information may be obtained from its web page at
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