Ultra-Secure Gun Registry Could Help Police Solve Crimes

The database is decentralized, and could help track gun owners in the US that are linked to crimes.
Fabienne Lang
Forensics working on a gunD-Keine/iStock

Creating a national gun registry is a tough conversation in the U.S., with advocates on both sides stating clear points. On the one hand, proposals for a gun registry mean that tracking guns in crimes would be faster and easier, on the other handgun rights advocates say it would compromise privacy. 

A team of computer scientists at Brown University, however, has come up with a potential solution: a database that uses highly advanced encryption to protect privacy. 

This way concerns from both sides of the debate are met. 

The research team discovered that not only was its solution possible, but it was also practical.

The scientists will present their study in May at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy.

How does the proposed gun registry work?

Essentially, the encryption system enables the database to be searched without being decrypted. So the people searching the database only see the information they're looking for and nothing else.

The data is controlled by county-level officials only, which means they have control over which searches are allowed, and can completely remove the county's data online if they wish to. 

The encrypted information displayed through the online registry would include the make, model, and the serial number of all legally owned guns in each county, and the owner's registration number. Only the county official would be able to decrypt the relevant information. 

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Authorized users in different counties would also be able to access the encrypted information, and if the county official from where the gun is registered allows it, can access the decrypted information. Authorized users include law enforcement, county officials, and gun sellers, for instance. 

As the researchers point out, at no point during the search algorithm process is the information decrypted, so there's no way for the computer to even see that information. 

"That provides really strong privacy throughout the process because none of the data can ever be seen without the decryption key," explained Seny Kamara from Brown University and co-author of this study. 

The team pictures its decryption device as a thumb drive or some other physical device. So once the device is out of the computer, there's zero access to the decrypted data. 

It looks like it's a secure system, however, the team is still in its proof-of-concept stages and is still fine-tuning its system.

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