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Cryptographic privacy-preserving enhancement method for investigative data acquisition

Kwecka, Zbigniew


Zbigniew Kwecka


The current processes involved in the acquisition of investigative data from third parties, such as banks, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and employers, by the public authorities can breach the rights of the individuals under investigation. This is mainly caused by the necessity to identify the records of interest, and thus the potential suspects, to the dataholders. Conversely, the public authorities often put pressure on legislators to provide a more direct access to the third party data, mainly in order to improve on turnaround times for enquiries and to limit the likelihood of compromising the investigations. This thesis presents a novel methodology for improving privacy and the performance of the investigative data acquisition process. The thesis shows that it is possible to adapt Symmetric Private Information Retrieval (SPIR) protocols for use in the acquisition process, and that it is possible to dynamically adjust the balance between the privacy and performance based on the notion of k-anonymity. In order to evaluate the findings an Investigative Data Acquisition Platform (IDAP) is formalised, as a cryptographic privacy-preserving enhancement to the current data acquisition process.
SPIR protocols are often computationally intensive, and therefore, they are generally unsuitable to retrieve records from large datasets, such as the ISP databases containing records of the network traffic data. This thesis shows that, despite the fact that many potential sources of investigative data exist, in most cases the data acquisition process can be treated as a single-database SPIR. Thanks to this observation, the notion of k-anonymity, developed for privacy-preserving statistical data-mining protocols, can be applied to the investigative scenarios, and used to narrow down the number of records that need to be processed by a SPIR protocol.
This novel approach makes the application of SPIR protocols in the retrieval of investigative data feasible.
The dilution factor is defined, by this thesis, as a parameter that expresses the range of records used to hide a single identity of a suspect. Interestingly, the value of this parameter does not need to be large in order to protect privacy, if the enquiries to a given dataholder are frequent. Therefore, IDAP is capable of retrieving an interesting record from a dataholder in a matter of seconds, while an ordinary SPIR protocol could take days to complete retrieval of a record from a large dataset.
This thesis introduces into the investigative scenario a semi-trusted third party, which is a watchdog organisation that could proxy the requests for investigative data from all public authorities. This party verifies the requests for data and hides the requesting party from the dataholder. This limits the dataholders ability to judge the nature of the enquiry. Moreover, the semi-trusted party would filter the SPIR responses from the dataholders, by securely discarding the records unrelated to enquiries. This would prevent the requesting party from using a large computational power to decrypt the diluting records in the future, and would allow the watchdog organisation to verify retrieved data in court, if such a need arises. Therefore, this thesis demonstrates a new use for the semi-trusted third parties in SPIR protocols. Traditionally used to improve on the complexity of SPIR protocols, such party can potentially improve the perception of the cryptographic trapdoor-based privacy- preserving information retrieval systems, by introducing policy-based controls.
The final contribution to knowledge of this thesis is definition of the process of privacy-preserving matching records from different datasets based on multiple selection criteria. This allows for the retrieval of records based on parameters other than the identifier of the interesting record. Thus, it is capable of adding a degree of fuzzy matching to the SPIR protocols that traditionally require a perfect match of the request to the records being retrieved. This allows for searching datasets based on circumstantial knowledge and suspect profiles, thus, extends the notion of SPIR to more complex scenarios.
The constructed IDAP is thus a platform for investigative data acquisition employing the Private Equi-join (PE) protocol – a commutative cryptography SPIR protocol.
The thesis shows that the use of commutative cryptography in enquiries where multiple records need to be matched and then retrieved (m-out-of-n enquiries) is beneficial to the computational performance. However, the above customisations can be applied to other SPIR protocols in order to make them suitable for the investigative data acquisition process. These customisations, together with the findings of the literature review and the analysis of the field presented in this thesis, contribute to knowledge and can improve privacy in the investigative enquiries.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date May 30, 2011
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2011
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords Investigative data; Internet Service Providers; privacy; Symmetric Private Information Retrieval; SPIR; k-anonymity; Investigative Data Acquisition Platform (IDAP);
Public URL
Contract Date May 30, 2011
Award Date 2011-04


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