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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fundamental Limits of Private Information Retrieval

  • Author(s): Sun, Hua
  • Advisor(s): Jafar, Syed
  • et al.

The modern information age is heralded by exciting paradigms ranging from big data, cloud computing to internet of things. As information becomes increasingly available, privacy concerns are starting to take center-stage, especially in the communication networks that are used for information storage, repair, retrieval or transfer. The focus of this dissertation is on the private information retrieval (PIR) problem. PIR originated in theoretical computer science and cryptography, and has only recently started receiving attention in information and coding theory. PIR seeks the most efficient way for a user to retrieve a desired message from a set of N distributed servers, each of which stores all K messages, without revealing any information about which message is being retrieved to any individual server. It is a canonical problem with deep connections to a number of other prominent problems such as oblivious transfer, multiparty computation, locally decodable codes, batch codes and blind interference alignment.

We will first identify the capacity of PIR, i.e., the maximum number of bits of desired information that can be privately retrieved per bit of downloaded information. This result is inspired by the discovery of an intriguing connection between PIR and blind interference alignment in wireless networks. Then we will discuss four extensions of PIR. The first extension is the TPIR problem, where we increase the privacy level, i.e., instead of requiring privacy to each individual server, we require privacy to any colluding set of up to T servers. We will characterize the capacity of TPIR and generalize the result to include robustness constraints, where we have M databases, out of which any M − N may fail to respond. The second extension is the MDS-TPIR problem, where we further generalize the storage constraint, i.e., instead of data replication, an MDS storage code is used to store the messages. In particular, we will disprove a recent conjecture on the capacity of MDS-TPIR. The third extension is the SPIR problem, a form of oblivious transfer where the privacy constraint is extended symmetrically to protect both the user and the servers. We will identify the capacity of SPIR. The final extension is MPIR, where the user and the servers communicate in multiple rounds. We will show that multiple rounds do not increase the capacity of PIR, but reduce the storage overhead. The results will shed light into the necessity for non-linear schemes and non-Shannon information inequalities.

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