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It's still a hypothetical, but easy to imagine: high school students and their families, about to take on thousands of dollars in loans and nervous about how the money will be spent, turn to a national database that details projected costs and financial outcomes. A few keystrokes later, they've entered enormous amounts of sensitive information, from a social security number and a street address to someone's employment history and financial status. That data is enormously attractive to hackers, and who's protecting it?
To address this, Senators Wyden, Rubio, and Warner introduced new legislation (the "Student Right to Know Before You Go Act") that offers more transparency for the costs and outcomes associated with higher education. Just as importantly, it requires use of a technique known as secure multi-party computation (MPC), which protects sensitive information by allowing parties to jointly compute a function over their inputs while keeping those inputs private.
Professor Seny Kamara of Brown University’s Department of Computer Science (Brown CS), who served as a technical advisor on the bill, says, "This is significant because we believe this bill is the first of its kind in requiring a privacy-preserving system based on MPC. It's an important moment: the government at its highest level has begun to realize that whenever we collect sensitive data, there have to be privacy protections in place, and those protections need to use the best and most modern cryptographic techniques."
Seny expects that the legislation will have a large impact not just on education but on technology and privacy. He says, "This shows that the benefits of big data can be obtained without compromising sensitive data. By integrating state-of-the-art privacy technologies, this bill illustrates what can be achieved when good policy and advanced technology combine."
For more information, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communication Outreach Specialist Jesse C. Polhemus.