In the last two weeks we participated in a workshop regarding privacy enhancing technologies and another workshop about cybercrime, hosted several guest speakers with deep domain expertise, met with a group of international visitors, and continue to work with visiting faculty and students from several Minority Serving Institutions. Besides making new connections and learning from each of these activities, I was struck by the interconnectedness of our problems, work, and solutions.
For example, consider the data challenge: for both operations and research, how do we get it, cleanse it, store it, and share it? At the privacy workshop co-hosted by the Center for Accelerating Operational Efficiency (CAOE) and the DHS Privacy Office, we met with government practitioners, academics, and industry experts to talk about technologies for securely sharing information. The presentations included topics like Secure Multiparty Computation and Homomorphic Encryption that allow sharing and operations on data without exposing the actual data – these were esoteric and impractical research areas a few years ago, and now they are being put into practice.
To my point about interconnectedness, we attended a cybercrime workshop a few days later and the researchers lamented the lack of available datasets. Having been freshly informed, I shared the technologies and resources discussed at the privacy workshop. This doesn’t instantly solve the problem, of course, but now my colleagues know that solutions do exist. I anxiously await the first publications in our domain based on data securely shared using one or more of these technologies.
In the same week, I had the pleasure of hearing two domain experts talk about – you guessed it – data, specifically the analysis of data to understand human trafficking networks, and the need to securely share data between different entities to understand and disrupt criminal networks. In these examples and others, the ability to share useful data in a privacy-preserving way is the key to breaking through the current barriers. So yes, we can have our cake and eat it, too – we can share data, fulfill our respective missions, and protect privacy.