By Harriet Pearson
Today’s society is built on the fast flow and analysis of bits and bytes of information. The strides we make in gathering, routing, and analyzing this torrent of data holds the promise of an ever-brighter future. Still, behind these data are real people, real organizations, and real concerns, so we need to reconcile the competing goals of free information flow and individual privacy.
To support the ongoing discussion of this critical issue, IBM is joining other leading global businesses, non-profits, individuals and governments in celebrating international Data Privacy Day.
Digital privacy can seem elusive. If you’re a consumer, it can be difficult to figure out what information companies have about you, or where they’re getting it, or how they’re might use it. If you’re a business or government leader, it can be hard to figure out how to responsibly use the personal data concerning individuals to do things such as conserve energy, reduce traffic congestion and suppress crime.
What’s at stake? Plenty. Getting data privacy “right” is an economic and social imperative. Trust and confidence in the security and privacy of the critical systems of our planet – especially the digital version of its central nervous system, the Internet – is foundational to individuals’ continued engagement and reliance on such things as online commerce, e-health and smart grids. If individual consumers don’t feel that their privacy and security are protected, they will not support modernization efforts, even though the capabilities of technology advancements are proven and the potential benefits to society are extensive.
Here’s an example of the tensions we face: The ability of smart grids to conserve resources relies on the ability of, and commitment from, consumers to monitor and modify their individual usage. An individual using a smart meter understands the difference in the cost of using electricity at peak versus non-peak hours and could opt to lower their usage during more costly time periods. At the same time, data from the meters can reveal sensitive information such as work habits, shower schedules, use of medical devices such as dialysis, and whether or not a house is occupied.
So, how does society move ahead with smart grids and other technology advances that rely upon individual or personal data, while addressing consumer privacy?
We need to improve awareness of threats to privacy among people of all ages. People need to know how to protect their own personal data and how to properly manage data that relates to others. Within IBM, we mandate information security education for all employees from senior executive to recent hire, and have tailored a Privacy: What you Need to Know course for all employees who may handle personal data. IBM is also producing technology that allows people to give out just the information they want to share and no more–some of which is being showcased in a new data privacy research initiative, ABC4TRUST.
We need to foster widespread adoption of the principles of Privacy by Design. That’s the idea that organizations should build new technology systems and business processes from the ground up to protect privacy–rather than trying to tack protections on later. Our analytics guru Jeff Jonas is speaking today at the preeminent global conference on this topic.
New privacy-protective technologies. A focus on innovation-friendly, business-ready privacy protection in government policy. Informed and enabled employees and consumers. These are the elements that must work together to protect individual privacy, support economic growth and clear the path for innovative, world-changing uses of data.
And then we’ll really have something to celebrate.
Harriet Pearson is VP Security Counsel & Chief Privacy Officer at IBM