World map symbol orange

Fight Data Privacy Breaches - Is it time for Data Safe Zones?

In view of recent revelations, is it time for Data Safe Zones where privacy is protected?

I seem to come back time and again to the subject of data residency and privacy. If you have been reading my posts over the last 18 months, the so called “breaking news” of what the US government (and maybe others, including the UK government) have been trying to do with our data, ie collecting it, won’t have been a surprise.

What has surprised me, though, is that it’s taken over 5 years for people to start really paying attention to some of the laws that have been put in place, not so much by our government (yet!) but more around others, such as the US government. Section 702 of the FISA 2008 gave the US government the legal right (under their laws anyway) to collect data on, and from, anyone who isn’t a US citizen.

All that PRISM has done is to put a name to it. What surprised me further was the outcry from US citizens when actually it’s everyone else who should be kicking up a fuss, as at least US citizens have some recourse and protection under their constitution. Whether the UK government has access to this data is also a moot point; it could be looking at personal communications from us without cause and without legal redress – which in anyone’s book isn’t acceptable in a modern, and what is supposed to be a free, society.

With cloud now all but the de facto place for storing personal data, and rapidly becoming the same for business, is it time for what I call Data Safe Zones, where data is safe from fishing trips by governments or organised crime whilst it’s resident in that zone?

Let’s be clear, these zones won’t be a place to hide, as they will be highly regulated and in well-respected jurisdictions, where personal privacy is upheld – unless due cause is found then access is given to the appropriate authorities. Data protection and privacy has now become a big issue and, as we become ever more digitised as societies, the focus on it will grow even further.

Data Safe Zones are likely to be some of the most regulated places in the world to do business, this probably would have come about due to financial services sectors that are likely to exist in them, which has created a lot of trust within the business world, and will now be extended to cover not only financial information but personal as well.

Along with a great reputation, they will have strong data protection laws that are internationally recognised as being well thought out and aligned to many other respected jurisdictions, for example, the EU’s data protection laws. But they are likely to be independent jurisdictions and can adapt far quicker than many of the larger countries.

Why is this important? For any jurisdiction to establish itself as the location of choice around data focused services, requires a strong, regulatory reputation backed by a strong regulator and a strong, but fair, legal framework.

Data safe zones are already being sought after by corporations that want places to transact business in, knowing their and their clients’ data isn’t potentially being copied or breached. Taking into account the above and the fact that the true value of data is now being recognised as tangible, not just in terms of content but as intellectual property with huge value; you can start to see why this isn’t just a moral issue but one of national and personal interest.

Data is being collected from nearly everything these days; from what we buy online and in shops, how much fuel our cars use, what we like and don’t like, to medical conditions, our lives are connected to so many things and are immersed in the “new digital age”.

With all this data comes opportunity, from using that data to improve our lives medically to improving the efficiency of cars, through to targeted marketing so we only see what we are interested in. Data has the power to change so many things, but this power needs to be controlled and delivered in a properly regulated manner and this is why Data Safe Zones will become so important.

To summarise, this is an area not to be under-estimated; when you take into account both personal protection of data and the protection of business sensitive data, there is in, my view, a place for well-regulated Data Safe Zones and for those jurisdictions that have the fore sight to embrace this concept, the potential of hundreds of millions of pounds per year in new income is something hard to ignore.

The ability to extract value from data and the information held within data sets is rapidly making data a global currency, which needs protecting.

By Julian Box, Posted 7th August 2013.