NeurIPS 2019
Sun Dec 8th through Sat the 14th, 2019 at Vancouver Convention Center
Paper ID:1911
Title:Capacity Bounded Differential Privacy

Reviewer 1

The paper is technically strong, but it has some weaknesses in terms of the motivation and nomenclature. Firstly, I am not sure that 'capacity-bounded' makes intuitive sense for this definition, as there appears to be no direct link to capacity-like properties of the underlying function classes. ** Section 3 It is a bit unclear why $\cal{H}$ corresponds to some kind of adversary assumptions. In particular the statement 120-121 seems vacuous. If it is intended to offer an explanation of why $\cal{H}$ is a good way to represent adverary capabilities it fails. For the example given, why wouldn't an adversary just be able to perform a simple hypothesis test for $P$ versus $Q$, rather than be restricted to (2) ? The definition itself is very interesting technically, but the connection to adversary capabilities is far from apparent. Is the implication of e.g. a linear $\cal{H} that an adversary would be calculating a linear distinguisher between two possible neighbouring datasets? Why couldn't the adversary just use simulation and rely on $\cal{H}$ instead? Why wouldn't the adversary have access to the output of the cb-DP algorithm? ** Section 4 The properties in Section 4 are essential for a new definition to be of potential use, so they are in a sense the core part of the paper. ** Section 5 This gives us a couple of simple mechanisms as examples. While not essential, this is a useful section, that would perhaps have been nicely complemented by a small experimental result. ** Section 6 Here we have a generalisation bound, as well as an inequality extension to the restricted setting, which is also of potential general use. ** Appendix: Proof of Theorem 2, l. 459, step 4: The concavity claim is a bit strange for step 4. Wouldn't it be the case that for $Z = \lambda A + (1 - \lambda) B$, \[ E_Z [f^*] = \lambda E_A [f^*]+ (1 - \lambda) E_B [f^*] \] Just as in the previous line? I fail to see either a logarithm or a term which involves the expectation of a convex combination, i.e. \[ E[\lambda f + (1 - \lambda) g] \leq \lambda E[f] + (1 - \lambda) E[g], \] so step 4 should be an equality?

Reviewer 2

I have read the rebuttal. I think my concerns around the benefits and the threat model still remain. While I think it is definitely interesting to investigate various relaxations of differential privacy, in this case I do not see the clear utility benefits of using this weaker capacity bounded differential privacy notion. --------------- The paper presents capacity bounded differential privacy – a relaxation of differential privacy against adversaries in restricted function classes. This definition satisfies standard privacy axioms (such as convexity, post-processing invariance, and composition), and in the case where the adversary is limited to linear class in some cases it permits mechanisms that have higher utility. I think the overall the idea of capacity bounded differential privacy is neat. My main concern with the paper is that the paper does not make it obviously clear the benefits of using this relaxed privacy definition. At this point it feels that the risks (in terms of possible privacy breach) of using this relaxation outweighs the potential benefits. Unless this issue is addressed it is unclear to evaluate the potential impact of this definition.

Reviewer 3

The paper is extremely well organized, building up towards the (reasonably complex) definition without getting bogged down in technical details. The new relaxation of differential privacy is based on the variational interpretation of f-divergence, where the set of distinguishers is restricted to a particular functional class. My main concern is that any definition is only as good as it captures any desirable properties of the resulting construction. In the security domain (of which privacy is a part), new definitions are justified by presenting a security threat model where they somehow capture the adversary's capabilities. What is the threat model where the privacy adversary is limited to a class like linear functions? The submission offers two answers to this question. First, it considers an adversary that is itself an ML model of some restricted concept class. Second, it hypothesizes that the analyst may be contractually bound to perform only certain classes of computations. The main problem here is that the definition - as the submission correctly observes - is not closed under post-processing. In other words, once the (ML or contractually bound) adversary does its computation, _its_ output can be observed and processed by someone else, without restrictions imposed by the definition. The new definition does lead to better parameters at the expense of a stricter security model. The submission analyzes two basic mechanisms, Laplace and Gaussian, and compares their parameters for the same target level of Renyi DP (RDP). According the plots, RDP against the restricted adversary _improves_ for higher orders. (The standard RDP is monotone in the order.) This is an illustration of how different, and tricky, the new definition is.