Deciding accuracy of differential privacy schemes

Gilles Barthe, Rohit Chadha, Paul Krogmeier, A. Prasad Sistla, Mahesh Viswanathan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Differential privacy is a mathematical framework for developing statistical computations with provable guarantees of privacy and accuracy. In contrast to the privacy component of differential privacy, which has a clear mathematical and intuitive meaning, the accuracy component of differential privacy does not have a generally accepted definition; accuracy claims of differential privacy algorithms vary from algorithm to algorithm and are not instantiations of a general definition. We identify program discontinuity as a common theme in existing ad hoc definitions and introduce an alternative notion of accuracy parametrized by, what we call,-the of an input x w.r.t. a deterministic computation f and a distance d, is the minimal distance d(x,y) over all y such that f(y)ĝ‰ f(x). We show that our notion of accuracy subsumes the definition used in theoretical computer science, and captures known accuracy claims for differential privacy algorithms. In fact, our general notion of accuracy helps us prove better claims in some cases. Next, we study the decidability of accuracy. We first show that accuracy is in general undecidable. Then, we define a non-trivial class of probabilistic computations for which accuracy is decidable (unconditionally, or assuming Schanuel's conjecture). We implement our decision procedure and experimentally evaluate the effectiveness of our approach for generating proofs or counterexamples of accuracy for common algorithms from the literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Programming Languages
Issue numberPOPL
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • accuracy
  • decidability
  • differential privacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


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