Home Finance U.K. and U.S. governments collaborate on prize challenges to accelerate development and adoption of privacy-enhancing technologies 

U.K. and U.S. governments collaborate on prize challenges to accelerate development and adoption of privacy-enhancing technologies 

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  • Prize challenges aim to generate technology innovation to help tackle the global challenge of financial crime
  • Innovators will be able to draw on expert advice from U.K. and U.S. regulators

The United Nations (UN) estimates that up to $2 trillion of cross-border money laundering takes place each year, financing organised crime and undermining economic prosperity. Greater information sharing and collaborative analytics among financial organisations could transform the detection of this activity, but research by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) shows this is hindered by the legal, technical and ethical challenges involved in jointly analysing sensitive information.

Financial crime is among those global challenges that PETs could play a transformative role in addressing.

The U.K. and U.S. governments are developing prize challenges focused on advancing the maturity of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) to combat financial crime.

Speaking at the Global Leaders Innovation Summit during London Tech Week in the U.K., Julia Lopez, the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), outlined how PETs can be harnessed to tackle global challenges – from the COVID-19 pandemic to human trafficking – by enabling insights to be derived from sensitive data, while protecting individuals’ privacy and proprietary information.

PETs include maturing technologies, such as federated learning, which allows machine learning models to be trained on high quality datasets, without the data leaving safe environments. Such technologies have the potential to help facilitate privacy-preserving financial information sharing and collaborative analytics; allowing suspicious types of behaviour to be identified without compromising the privacy of individuals, or requiring the transfer of data between institutions or across borders. Through the U.S. and U.K. prize challenges, innovators will develop state-of-the-art privacy-preserving federated learning solutions that help to tackle the barriers to the wider use of these technologies. 

Research by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has found that uncertainty about the regulatory implications of using these technologies is a significant barrier to adoption. As part of the PETs prize challenges, innovators will be able to engage with regulators, including the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and the U.S.’ Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

The U.K.-U.S. collaboration on the PETs prize challenges was first announced at the Summit for Democracy in December 2021. Since then, the U.K.’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) and Innovate U.K. have been working with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to take the prize challenges forward.

The challenges will open to innovators on both sides of the Atlantic this summer. Challenge solutions will be showcased in the second Summit for Democracy, to be convened by President Joe Biden, in early 2023. 

The PETs prize challenges form part of a broader CDEI work programme, also announced today, focused on enabling responsible data access. This multi-year programme will pilot and scale new approaches to enabling trustworthy access to data, working with partners across government, industry and regulators.

Julia Lopez, Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “I’m delighted that the U.K. and U.S. are working with regulators on both sides of the Atlantic to help realise the potential of novel privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) to tackle financial crime. The U.K.’s National Data Strategy outlines the promise of PETs in enabling trustworthy data access. PETs have the potential to facilitate new forms of data collaboration to tackle the harms of money laundering, while protecting citizens’ privacy.”

Dr. Alondra Nelson, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said: “Data can be marshalled to make life easier and more just. But too often, powerful data tools are instead used to deepen inequality and threaten our most basic freedoms. The PETs prize challenges seek to close that gap and demonstrate how these tools can be used responsibly to achieve their potential across many areas – from improving access to healthcare and addressing the climate crisis to advancing financial security and ending human trafficking. This important initiative is an expression of our shared vision: a world where our technologies reflect our values and innovation opens the door to solutions that make us more secure.” 

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