New centre takes privacy seriously

21 January 2019 | Research - Impact

The launch of N-CRiPT will break new ground in data privacy technologies

NUS has launched a new $12 million centre to carry out cutting-edge research aimed at managing the fundamental trade-off between the usefulness of accessible information and the risk of privacy breaches. Funded by the National Research Foundation Singapore, the NUS Centre for Research in Privacy Technologies (N-CRiPT) will design and develop privacy-preserving technologies to protect the privacy of individuals and organisations in a holistic manner throughout the data life cycle, from collection and curation to processing and sharing.

Speaking at the launch of the Centre on 15 January, Mr Yeong Zee Kin, Assistant Chief Executive (Data Innovation and Protection), Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore and Deputy Commissioner, Personal Data Protection Commission, reiterated the common expression that “data is the new oil”.

“We are not turning back the clock. We will not be going back to the days when we used less data. We will not be going back to the days when we used less technology. The volume of data will continue to grow. The volume of data that we store will continue to grow. So how best do we find a new way forward to safeguard the data that we have and to also ensure that we get the best value out of the data that we are sitting on?” said Mr Yeong, adding that from this perspective, the work being done at N-CRiPT is going to be very important.

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Prof Kankanhalli addressing the audience at N-CRiPT’s inaugural workshop

Based in the NUS School of Computing, N-CRiPT will be led by the School’s Dean Professor Mohan Kankanhalli and comprise faculty members from NUS EngineeringNUS Business and Yale-NUS College. There are currently 12 researchers and 20 students working on various projects at the Centre.

The goal of N-CRiPT is to develop research-based solutions that will instill trust in individuals and organisations when it comes to the collection and processing of sensitive data.

N-CRiPT will develop privacy-preserving solutions for structured data such as age, gender and date of birth, as well as unstructured data such as text messages, images, video and audio. One technique that will be explored is the generation of synthetic data that closely mirrors original data sets, without being linked to any individual. This could prove useful in times of emergency, for example analysing travel patterns and medical records to identify high-risk areas during a flu epidemic. However, since there can never be absolute security, the Centre will also study risk management in the context of privacy, and develop techniques to determine the value of data, which will in turn inform privacy insurance decisions.

“The advent of a Smart Nation requires large volumes of data, some personal, and people are rightfully concerned about the protection of their information. The goal of N-CRiPT is to develop research-based solutions that will instill trust in individuals and organisations when it comes to the collection and processing of sensitive data. N-CRiPT will also partner companies and government agencies to translate the R&D outcomes into applications that will facilitate privacy-aware sharing and linking of data. These will pave the way towards new technologies, business and job opportunities that will help realise Singapore’s vision of becoming a Smart Nation,” said Prof Kankanhalli.

Following the official launch, N-CRiPT held its inaugural workshop at the Kent Ridge Guild House, which saw a slew of talks by the Centre’s principal investigators and researchers on topics such as collaborative visual analytics, machine learning and privacy, and biometric applications.