Protecting User Data in Ubiquitous Computing: Towards Trustworthy Environments

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Abstract

In a Ubiquitous Computing environment, sensors are actively collecting data, much of which can be very sensitive. Data will often be streaming at high rates (video and audio) and it must be dealt with in real-time. Protecting the privacy of users is of central importance. Dealing with these issues will be a central challenge for ubicomp for some time to come. Here we propose some simple design principles which address several of these issues. We illustrate them through the design of a smart room capture system we are building. The main design principle is “data discretion:” users should have access and control of data about them, and should be able to determine how it is used. We show how data discretion supports both personal and collaborative uses. In our implementation, the data discretion principle is enforced with cryptographic techniques. Unlike ACL based access control systems, our scheme embeds access rights of legitimate users within the data. An important property of the method is that it hides meta-information about data access: no user can determine who (else) has access to any given datum. Access information is sensitive because it discloses information about which and when users were in the room. We have implemented a prototype system in the smart room equipped with several cameras, and we give data throughput rates under various degrees of protection. Finally we describe ongoing work towards a trustworthy ubicomp environment whose discretion is realistically checkable.