SPRITE+: Tackling Challenges in the Future of Digital Security, Privacy, Identity and Trust

SPRITE+: Tackling Challenges in the Future of Digital Security, Privacy, Identity and Trust

By Dr Dmitry Dereshev and Professor Emma Barrett

The Security, Privacy, Identity, Trust, Engagement NetworkPlus celebrated its official launch at the end of November 2019. An evening reception in Manchester’s spectacular Whitworth Art Gallery was followed by a two day meeting of 75 of SPRITE+’s Expert Fellows and stakeholders to debate future challenges of trust, identity, privacy and security in the digital economy.

What is SPRITE+?

SPRITE+, the newest EPSRC NetworkPlus, brings together people in academia, industry, government, law enforcement, and civil society organisations with a focus on digital contexts. It is a ‘one stop shop’ for engagement between academic and non-academic communities and a platform for building collaborations. The project is funded from 2019-2023 by the EPSRC as part of its Digital Economy programme.

SPRITE+ is led by The University of Manchester’s Professor Emma Barrett, with Dr Stacey Conchie (Lancaster University), Professor Bill Lee (Imperial College London), Professor Vladimiro Sassone (University of Southampton), Professor Sakir Sezer (Queen’s University Belfast) and Professor Mark Elliot (Manchester) comprising the Management Team.

Activities are delivered in partnership with Project Partners from industry, NGOs, government, and the police.

Future Challenges in a Digital World

SPRITE+ has more than 120 Expert Fellows – academics and industry experts from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, including engineering, social sciences, and humanities – who help SPRITE+ identify the highest priority areas to focus on.

At our first annual Expert Fellows meeting, we engaged in a series of workshop exercises and some lively debate, to settle on four broad Challenge Themes. Each Theme has technical and non-technical aspects, and each is relevant to a wide range of research end users.

  • Digital Vulnerabilities: How should we conceptualise, identify and assess susceptibility to future digital harm? How might we protect networks, hardware, individuals and organisations from increasingly complex harms and/or make them resilient in the face of harm? What roles will technology, people, organisations, governments, and societies play both in enabling and reducing digital risks and harms?
  • Digital Technologies and Change: How will digital technologies develop and become socially embedded over time? What choices will people, organisations and societies have in developing, selecting and using future digital technologies and how could they exercise that choice? How can ethics, regulation, policy, education etc. keep up with the pace of technological change? How can legacy, present, and future technologies come together to form a digital ecosystem that works for everyone? How might the concept of ‘identity’ change, and what will that mean at all levels, from individuals to communities to nation states?
  • Accountability and Ethics in a Digital Ecosystem: What new issues of trust and accountability could arise in the future digital ecosystem, and how might existing issues evolve? What will be the roles of regulation, legislation and ‘self-policing’? How could privacy, fairness and accountability be built into new technology (‘by design’)? How will individuals and organisations verify identities? What will influence future stakeholder perceptions of what is ‘good’ technology and ‘good’ technology use?
  • Digital Technologies, Power and Control: How do we create empowered, informed communities with the knowledge and ability to make fair choices about the impact of future technologies? What could prevent future technologies deepening the digital divide, worsening existing power asymmetries, and creating new ones? How can we develop enabling, useable technology? How do we balance individual needs with the needs of a community, a corporation, or a state? Who will have a say in how technology is used to inform decisions, and how will marginalised voices be heard?

What is Next? – And How To Get Involved

Our next step is to create Challenge Working Groups (CWGs) which will scope, refine and explore these broad themes over the next two years. They will do this through a series of activities designed to produce cross-disciplinary, cross-sector understandings of the key issues. The CWGs will scope key end user requirements and concerns, assess the current state of the art in research, and make recommendations for future research priorities.

CWGs will be led by Expert Fellows but they will include a diverse membership, including academics across disciplines (and including early career researchers) and end users from different sectors, reflecting the diversity of the SPRITE+ community. Their work will start in earnest in spring 2020.

Although the themes are high-level and intended to be interpreted broadly, they cannot encompass every aspect of the future of digital security, privacy, identity and trust. Alongside the work of the CWGs SPRITE+ will be organising and supporting activities that touch on areas that may not be the focus of the CWGs. We are seeing the beginnings of the formation of Communities of Interest within SPRITE+, and we are particularly keen to work with other organisations and networks active in these areas, so please get in touch (via if you think we can support your programme.

If you are interested in joining the SPRITE+ community, membership is free and open to anyone who is interested in future challenges to security, privacy, identity, and trust in the digital economy. Members have the opportunity to join Challenge Working Groups, attend events, network on the SPRITEHub (our virtual collaborative platform), and apply to participate in our research sandpits with the potential for winning seed corn funding.

Whether you are a technologist, engineer, social scientist, or working in industry, infrastructure, government or the police, or a member of a charity or advocacy group – or none of these, you are welcome to join and participate as much or as little as you like. We look forward to working with you!

Dr Dmitry Dereshev is a Human Factors Research Associate at the University of Manchester. His role involves developing digital materials for the SPRITE+ community.

Professor Emma Barrett is a Professor of Psychology, Security, and Trust, Director of SPRITE+ and the University of Manchester’s strategic lead for Digital Trust and Security.