Technical Dimensions of Privacy

Professor Stephen B. Wicker, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cornell University

Thursday, October 16, 2008
11 a.m.

CSB 209


The right to privacy is generally understood to be the right on the part of an agent to selectively reveal information about his or herself. The conflicting goals of directed advertising, credit agencies, legislative bodies, and the federal executive branch, as well as the increasing power of sensor networks and data processing systems, have made this exercise a frustrating, and often impossible task. In this talk I will provide a brief overview of the thicket of legislation, Supreme Court precedents, lobbying activities, and marketing concerns that enmesh the issue of privacy. I will then show how a series of deep technical issues emerge as possible basis for relief. In particular, I will define a series of computer science and information theory problems whose solution may significantly enhance the ability of privacy advocates and legislators to return some semblance of power to the individual to control how personal data is collected and used. I will conclude by suggesting a series of accompanying social science issues, and describe the potential downside to the continued erosion of privacy in this country.

Speaker Biography

Stephen B. Wicker is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University, and a member of the graduate fields of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics. Professor Wicker was awarded the 1988 Cornell College of Engineering Michael Tien Teaching Award and the 2000 Cornell School of Electrical and Computer Engineering Teaching Award. Professor Wicker is the author of Codes, Graphs, and Iterative Decoding (Kluwer, 2002), Turbo Coding (Kluwer, 1999), Error Control Systems for Digital Communication and Storage (Prentice Hall, 1995) and Reed-Solomon Codes and Their Applications (IEEE Press, 1994). He has served as Associate Editor for Coding Theory and Techniques for the IEEE Transactions on Communications, and is currently Associate Editor for the ACM Transactions on Sensor Networks. He has served two terms as a member of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Information Theory Society, and chaired the Technical Program Committee for the Fifth International Conference on Information Processing in Sensor Networks (IPSN 2006).

Professor Wicker teaches and conducts research in information theory, game theory, wireless information networks, and packet-switched computer networks. His research has focused on the development and application of advanced technologies for adaptive networks. He is also conducting joint research with the Berkeley School of Law on privacy policy and the impact of the deployment of sensor networks in public spaces. Professor Wicker is the Cornell Principal Investigator for the TRUST Science and Technology Center - a National Science Foundation center dedicated to the development of technologies for securing the nation's critical infrastructure.