UK & US Announce Winners of Privacy Tech Challenge at Democracy Summit

  • Yesterday, at the second Summit for Democracy, the United Kingdom and the United States announced the winners of prize challenges to drive innovation in privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) that reinforce democratic values
  • Announced at the inaugural Summit for Democracy in December 2021, the prize challenges inspired innovators on both sides of the Atlantic to build solutions that enable collaborative development of artificial intelligence (AI) models, while keeping sensitive information private

Driven by a shared priority to employ data to help solve critical global challenges in a manner that affirms U.S. and UK commitments to democratic values and the fundamental right to privacy, the challenges focused on developing PETs solutions for two scenarios: forecasting pandemic infection and detecting financial crime.

World-leading experts from academic institutions, global technology companies, and privacy start-ups competed for cash prizes from a combined UK-U.S. prize pool of $1.6 million (£1.3 million). The winning solutions combined different PETs to allow the AI models to learn to make better predictions without exposing any sensitive data. This focus on combining privacy approaches encouraged the development of innovative solutions that address practical data privacy concerns in real world scenarios.

In the final phase of the challenges, the privacy guarantees of the solutions were put to the test by “red teams” attempts to reveal the original data used for training the models. The resilience of the solutions to these attacks determined the final winners. UK participants also received support from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to help them consider how their solutions could demonstrate compliance with key UK data protection regulation principles.

The United States and United Kingdom will continue to build on their shared interest in advancing responsible innovation in PETs. In May, a joint Demo Day will be held in London to deepen transatlantic communities of practice among UK and U.S. privacy researchers and government representatives. Further collaboration in this space, such as developing tools and guidance to assist practitioners to adopt these technologies effectively and responsibly, is being actively explored.

Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for the UK Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said:

Never before has our privacy been so important and we must protect our democratic values by safeguarding the right to privacy. That is why the UK and its allies are collaborating to create innovative technologies that enable public institutions to combat financial crime and promote public health without compromising the confidentiality of the sensitive data they manage.

John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, said:

Privacy enhancing technologies can help analyse data responsibly, lawfully and securely and it will be important for regulators and industry to continue to work together to support responsible innovation in these technologies.

Data has the power to drive solutions to some of our biggest shared challenges, but much of that data is sensitive and needs to be protected.” said Arati Prabhakar, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Privacy-enhancing technologies are the only way to solve the quandary of how to harness the value of data while protecting people’s privacy. That’s why it’s important for democracies to come together to advance these promising technologies.

Congratulations to all the winners, who have shown that we can innovate with AI to solve societal challenges while protecting privacy,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “It’s critical that we work to protect our democratic values while realizing the potential of AI to serve the common good.

Collaboration with international partners can help researchers develop technologies and find global solutions to problems that often transcend borders,” said U.S. National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “We are thrilled that the PETs prize challenge is galvanizing innovation and helping the research community close gaps and accelerate broader adoption of privacy-enhancing technologies.

The prize challenges were designed and delivered through a collaborative, bilateral process. In the UK, the challenges were delivered by the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, part of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and Innovate UK. In the United States, the challenges were funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation, with partnership from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Additional support was provided by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK Financial Conduct Authority, NHS England Transformation, the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Swift, and the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute.


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