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Securing the World's Cyber Infrastructure

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CSIS Seminar

Privacy, Stability and Generalization

Speaker:   Adam Smith, Boston University
When:   September 21, 2018, 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Where:   Research Hall, Room 163


Consider an agency holding a large database of sensitive personal information -- medical records, census survey answers, web search records, or genetic data, for example. The agency would like to discover and publicly release global characteristics of the data while protecting the privacy of individuals' records. I will begin by discussing what makes this problem difficult, illustrating some challenges via recent work on membership inference attacks. Motivated by this, I will present differential privacy, a rigorous definition of privacy in statistical databases that is now widely studied, and increasingly used to analyze and design deployed systems. Finally, I will explain how differential privacy is connected to a seemingly different problem: understanding statistical validity in "adaptive data analysis", the practice by which insights gathered from data are used to inform further analysis of the same data set. I'll show how limiting the information revealed about a data set during analysis allows one to control bias, and why differential privacy provides a particularly useful tool for limiting revealed information.

Speaker Bio

Adam Smith is a professor of computer science at Boston University. From 2007 to 2017, he served on the faculty of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Penn State. His research interests lie in data privacy and cryptography, and their connections to machine learning, statistics, information theory, and quantum computing. He obtained his Ph.D. from MIT in 2004 and has held postdoc and visiting positions at the Weizmann Institute of Science, UCLA, Boston University and Harvard. He received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2009; a Theory of Cryptography Test of Time award in 2016; and the 2017 Gadel Prize. These last two awards were joint with C. Dwork, F. McSherry, and K. Nissim.