[Resource Topic] 2023/1496: A Privacy-preserving Central Bank Ledger for Central Bank Digital Currency

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A Privacy-preserving Central Bank Ledger for Central Bank Digital Currency

Authors: Chan Wang Mong Tikvah


Central banks around the world are actively exploring the issuance of retail central bank digital currency (rCBDC), which is widely seen as a key upgrade of the monetary system in the 21st century. However, privacy concerns are the main impediment to rCBDC’s development and roll-out. A central bank as the issuer of rCBDC would typically need to keep a digital ledger to record all the balances and transactions of citizens. These data, when combined with other data, could possibly disclose the spending habits of all citizens. On the one hand, the eligible rights of people to keep their transactions private should be protected, including against central bank surveillance. On the other hand, the central bank needs to ensure that no over-issuance of money or other frauds occur, necessarily demanding a certain form of knowledge of rCBDC transactions to safeguard against malicious users who create counterfeit money or spend duplicated money. This work investigates cryptographic tools and privacy-enhancing technology with the aim to craft a scalable solution to strike a balance between user privacy and transaction verifiability. Different from the current mainstream thought among central banks, it assumes that the central bank maintains a ledger to record all balances and transactions of citizens, but in a concealed form. Specifically, this work focuses on rCBDC architectures based on the unspent transaction output (UTXO) data model and tackles the research problem of preserving a sufficient degree of privacy for UTXO transaction records while allowing the central bank to verify their correctness. While UTXO-based rCBDC architectures were widely tested among major central banks, user privacy is not adequately addressed. The adoption of evolving public keys as pseudonyms to hide the real identities of users is the most advanced privacy design for UTXO-based rCBDC, but it only solves the privacy issue partially. Some information could still be leaked out. This work investigates techniques to address the shortcomings of the pseudonym approach. First, a Pedersen commitment scheme is applied to hide the transaction values of a UTXO transaction while allowing the central bank to verify that no over-issuance of rCBDC has occurred in the transaction. Contrary to the conventional approach, which applies a zero knowledge proof to prove no over-issuance, this work uses a Schnorr signature. This not only reduces the overheads but also enables a non-interactive proof. Then, Coinjoin is applied to aggregate UTXO transactions from different users into one larger UTXO transaction to obfuscate the payer-payee relationship while preserving the correctness of the amount of money flow. This work applies a well-developed notion in database research, namely, k-anonymity, to analyse the privacy guarantee of Coinjoin. Through modelling the transaction traffic by a Poisson process, the trade-off between anonymity and transaction confirmation time of Coinjoin is analysed.

ePrint: https://eprint.iacr.org/2023/1496

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