Monday, July 1, 2013

Is Pandora’s Box finally open?

Tony Pepper
Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder
Egress Software Technologies Ltd.
A couple of days ago I was waiting in an airport departure lounge about to board a plane to Oslo. While sipping a coffee and watching the clock count down, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of the TV screens was playing a BBC update on the GCHQ data hacking story. I found myself listening to so-called ‘data security experts’ offering advice and guidelines surrounding best practice information security designed to help protect organisations and individuals from unauthorised personnel (including Government bodies) accessing sensitive information.


Suddenly, a thought came over me: Is this the story that will provide the catalyst for finally opening the lid on the public’s perception of data security? Will this story contribute towards long-term change in traditional data sharing habits and trends – in particular how cavalier businesses can often be when handling sensitive data?

From my perspective, I think there are two issues here.

Firstly, I'm amazed that organisations and individuals are so surprised by this recent ‘revelation’. If you’re happy to place personal data in the Cloud without any assurance from your Cloud Provider as to the physical location of that data and what legal jurisdiction/laws it subsequently falls under, are you really that shocked when governments collaborate to access your crown jewels?

Secondly, are businesses and individuals outraged by this news because they feel their privacy has been violated by the global brands they have come to trust or is there a deeper seated issue here? Do organisations and individuals want their basic human right to data privacy irrespective of ‘greater good’ intentions from governments claiming national security waivers?

I wonder if this story has brought into question the very foundations on which democratic society has been built by placing the spotlight on the age-old balance between individual privacy rights and the utilitarian approach to managing national security – the paradoxical struggle between security services and human rights activists that has existed since the beginning of time.

As Chief Executive of a company that develops encryption software designed to provide customers with assurances around precisely who is accessing their data and where it is being accessed, I feel we definitively address one aspect of this debate but remain somewhat philosophical about the broader subject of an open and transparent society, questioning whether this is something we should collectively endorse or not. However in either instance, I’m pleased to see this debate raised at national and international levels and watch in anticipation to see how this plays out over the coming months and years.

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