October 6 – 9 , 2013, Dagstuhl Seminar 13412

Genomic Privacy


Kay Hamacher (TU Darmstadt, DE)
Jean Pierre Hubaux (EPFL – Lausanne, CH)
Gene Tsudik (University of California – Irvine, US)

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Dagstuhl Report, Volume 3, Issue 10 Dagstuhl Report
Aims & Scope
List of Participants
Shared Documents
Dagstuhl Seminar Schedule [pdf]


The Dagstuhl seminar 13412 "Genomic Privacy" was a short two-and-a-half-day seminar, the first one on this topic ever, which took place from October 6th to 9th, 2013. The aim was to bring together researchers, from various research areas related to genomic privacy, and to inspire them to exchange theoretical results, practical requirements and ethical and legal implications related to the protection of genomic data. The rise of personalized medicine on the background of available, individual genomic sequences is taken for granted in the biomedical community. Impressive advances in genome sequencing have opened the way to a variety of revolutionary applications in modern healthcare. In particular, the increasing understanding of the human genome, and of its relation to diseases and its response to treatments brings promise of improvements in preventive and personalized healthcare. However, because of the genome's highly sensitive nature, this progress raises important privacy and ethical concerns that need to be addressed. Indeed, besides carrying information about a person's genetic condition and his predisposition to specific diseases, the genome also contains information about his relatives. The leakage of such information can open the door to a variety of abuses and threats not yet fully understood. During the seminar, these points were addressed in particular:

  • Expression and Requirements: What should be protected? For how long? Against whom? Who should be liable? Who would manage cryptographic keys? Anonymity vs. cryptography?
  • Privacy Mechanisms & Regulations: What privacy enhancing techniques can be envisioned specifically for genomic data? What if some people publish their genome online against the will of their relatives? Which ethical guidelines can be adopted from traditional privacy regulations?
  • Medical Perspective: Would medical specialists accept to have only a partial view on genomic data? How are epidemiological studies and biobanks affected by legal and/or technical restrictions?
  • Patient Perspective: What patient's involvement can be reasonably expected? `Can a person's genomic information be outsourced to some cloud storage service?
  • Economics: What are the economic implications of genomic privacy; of its neglect?

The seminar fully satisfied the expectations. All participants briefly self-introduced themselves. Some of them were invited by the organizers to give survey talks about their recent research on genomic privacy, thus facilitating and encouraging inter-disciplinary discussions during the morning sessions. There were talks focusing both on the definition of the requirements for the efficient and secure implementation of genomic medicine and on the possible solutions to be addressed. The afternoon sessions were devoted to working groups.

The second day was focused on the possible technical solutions that can be used to ensure genomic privacy. If, on one hand, there are computational expensive cryptographical approaches such as homomorphic encryption or secure multi-party computation that guarantee accuracy at the expense of flexibility and increasing complexity, on the other hand there are also statistical-based solutions such as differential privacy, which are less accurate but more flexible and less expensive in terms of computational and complexity costs. The first speaker of the day, Andreas Peter (University of Twente, NL), described his ongoing work on how to securely outsource genomic sequences in a privacy-preserving way by relying on an oblivious RAM construction. The second talk, by Erman Ayday (EPFL - Lausanne, CH), provided an overview of the activities on genomic privacy in Lausanne. Ayday first focused on how to protect and evaluate genomic privacy in the clinical context, he then showed how to process in a privacy-preserving fashion raw genomic data; and finally he described how to quantify kin genomic privacy. The third speaker of the morning, Vitaly Shmatikov (University of Texas - Austin, US), discussed about how to conduct privacy-preserving exploration in Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS). He presented a set of privacy-preserving data mining algorithms that produce significantly accurate results while guaranteeing differential privacy. Finally, the second-day morning session was closed by Emiliano De Cristofaro's (University College London, GB) survey about how to begin to address privacy-respecting genomic tests by relying on privacy-enhancing techniques based on private set intersection operations.

The final day started with a talk by Xiaofeng Wang (Indiana University - Bloomington, US) about the privacy-preserving sharing and analysis of human genomic data. In particular, he described some techniques for secure outsourcing of genome analysis, and differentially-private pilot data release and data source selection. The remaining part of the morning was devoted to a general discussion about the seminar's outcomes. Due to the seminar and the multi-disciplinary interactions, it became clear that protection of simple genomic sequences is not enough for a full-privacy preserving approach. The organizers, together with the participants, agreed that this problem should be addressed in a sequel Dagstuhl-seminar. Hence, they set up a future work agenda in order to organize again such a fruitful gathering.

We thank Schloss Dagstuhl for the professional and inspiring atmosphere it provides. Such an intense research seminar is possible because Dagstuhl so perfectly meets all researchers' needs.

  Creative Commons BY 3.0 Unported license
  Kay Hamacher, Jean Pierre Hubaux, and Gene Tsudik

Related Dagstuhl Seminar


  • Security / Cryptology


  • Genomics
  • Genetics
  • Health data
  • Privacy protection
  • Differential privacy
  • Privacy by design
  • Information security
  • Cryptography
  • Secure computation

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