Theory of Cryptography

Volume 3378 of the series Lecture Notes in Computer Science pp 363-385

Toward Privacy in Public Databases

  • Shuchi ChawlaAffiliated withCarnegie Mellon University
  • , Cynthia DworkAffiliated withMicrosoft Research SVC
  • , Frank McSherryAffiliated withMicrosoft Research SVC
  • , Adam SmithAffiliated withWeizmann Institute of Science
  • , Hoeteck WeeAffiliated withUniversity of California


We initiate a theoretical study of the census problem. Informally, in a census individual respondents give private information to a trusted party (the census bureau), who publishes a sanitized version of the data. There are two fundamentally conflicting requirements: privacy for the respondents and utility of the sanitized data. Unlike in the study of secure function evaluation, in which privacy is preserved to the extent possible given a specific functionality goal, in the census problem privacy is paramount; intuitively, things that cannot be learned “safely” should not be learned at all.

An important contribution of this work is a definition of privacy (and privacy compromise) for statistical databases, together with a method for describing and comparing the privacy offered by specific sanitization techniques. We obtain several privacy results using two different sanitization techniques, and then show how to combine them via cross training. We also obtain two utility results involving clustering.