IEEE Digital Privacy Podcast Series: Episode 6


Luc LongpreA Conversation with Luc Longpre
Undergraduate Program Director in Computer Science
The University of Texas at El Paso

Listen to Episode 6 (MP3, 11 MB)


Part of the IEEE Digital Privacy Podcast Series


Episode Transcript:

Brian Walker: Welcome to the IEEE Digital Privacy Podcast Series, an IEEE Digital Studio Production. This podcast series features conversations with industry and academic leaders as well as key stakeholders of digital privacy, in order to help advance solutions that support the privacy needs of individuals. In this episode, Professor Luc Longpre, Undergraduate Program Director in Computer Science at the University of Texas El Paso, shares his insights on computer security. In particular, the protection of privacy in databases and cryptographic protocols. Luc, thank you for taking time to contribute to the IEEE Digital Privacy Podcast Series. To get started, can you share a little information on your background?

Luc Longpre: Okay, I got my PhD at Cornell University under Juris Hartmanis, who by the way, I mean, he's a Turing awarder, but he passed away about three weeks ago. And I'm an Associate Professor at UTEP, which is University of Texas at El Paso. My responsibilities include beyond teaching and research, I'm the Computer Science Undergraduate Program Director and also the one who brought the department to become an NSA designated Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. So, my research interests have been in computational complexity and cryptography. And the cryptography aspect led me to an interest in cybersecurity.

Brian Walker: So, Luc, what is your current area of focus related to digital privacy?

Luc Longpre: Okay, my research interests have been in computational complexity and cryptography, depending on my advisor's interest when I did my masters and PhD. The RSA encryption algorithm came out in '78/'79, something like that. And then in 1980, I was doing my master's thesis, so I designed a way to use RSA to implement electronic money. So, at that time, I focused on being impossible to create fake money. But soon after, some other researchers, they designed a way to emphasize privacy, so that when you use the-- make electronic financial transaction, then nobody can figure out who did what. So, anyways, that was a good improvement and their-- but their algorithm was more complex. In my PhD, I studied Kolmogorov complexity. This is a way to measure a quantity of information, and one could define digital privacy as limiting the quantity of information leaked on into the parties. So, digital privacy has so many aspects. And one of my focus is attempting to define a mathematical way to measure how much privacy you lose.

Brian Walker: Do you have any thoughts on why you believe digital privacy should be prioritized?

Luc Longpre: I mean, if you think of privacy, is this a right? So, the right to privacy is a concept that one's personal information is protected from public. So, it's not explicitly in the U.S. Constitution, but it is implied in many of the constitution amendments. So, it's kind of important. So, but why is it prioritized? Because privacy loss is a one-way concept. Meaning that you lose privacy, you cannot get it back. So, once you lose privacy, then that's all. And then there's so many cases of loss of privacy through identity theft or other ways that kind of permanently altered the people's life.

Brian Walker: So, in regards to digital privacy, are there lessons learned from past experiences in the tech space that can be applied to digital privacy initiatives today?

Luc Longpre: So, nowadays, I mean, in the early days computers-- not so many people have computers-- but now everybody has computers. And computers are very fast and then research, also advances in machine learning, language processing, computer vision, data mining, so it automates a lot of data science and then it totally increased the threat of privacy loss so that I think that that's why digital privacy is important.

Brian Walker: So, Luc, where do you see challenges in the digital privacy space?

Luc Longpre: Yeah, some challenge is because privacy has so many aspects. And then I look at it from a scientific.. but there's lots-- there's a societal view and there is some the health area, and then the car communicate with each other. So, anyway, it's very hard to define what is privacy. Now when we build some systems in computer science, we often consider security and privacy as an afterthought. So, you build some program and then at the end-- I had a very good friend, I mean, a long time ago, maybe 20 years ago that was working for Microsoft, and then people would develop their product and they'd ask him, "Okay, put privacy on it." Which is totally not what we should do. And then the same thing with privacy, you do something and say, "Okay, now that we have a system, so how do we protect the privacy?" It's very hard to do it with afterthought. So, an analogy that I use in my security courses, you don't build a house, then once the house is built, you put electric wiring and all the water pipes. So, the water pipes and the electricity has to be considered in the design phase and then you build it with it.

Brian Walker: So, how do you see the IEEE Digital privacy Initiative helping to advance the technology space?

Luc Longpre: Yeah, I mean, if you think of cybersecurity, it took a long time for people to be worried about cybersecurity. I taught my first cybersecurity course in 1998 and I often joke that when I was screaming security, nobody heard me, because nobody cared. And now I'm screaming security, and nobody hears me because too many people are screaming. So, anyway, so the shift became it was about ten/fifteen years ago when the breaches made the news, and people hear in the news about companies got hacked and then at the school, the records were stolen, and all this, then people start to worry. So, I see digital privacy as the next challenge facing our community. So, there are so many aspects beyond computer science and I'm confident that this initiative that we have at IEEE will bring in some focus on the important topic.

Brian Walker: Luc, thank you again for speaking with us today. Do you have any final thoughts?

Luc Longpre: Whether you're in computer science or in some other fields, I think there's lots of other fields for which digital privacy is important, so the IEEE Digital Privacy Initiative as it evolves will have some nice website and will have resources that people can consult to get informed on the topic.

Brian Walker: Thank you for listening to our podcast with Professor Luc Longpre. To learn more about the IEEE Digital Privacy Initiative, please visit our web portal at