Privacy, Encryption and Security

Encryption and Privacy

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."    Benjamin Franklin, 1759.

Security and privacy have long been important issues forming the basis of numerous democracies around the world. In the digital age, securing personal information and ensuring privacy pose to be issues of paramount concern. And the post 9/11 era presents an even bigger challenge as the boogeyman of terrorism is being propped up against the citizens rights to privacy. At first glance, one might find it gratifying that an online website greets the person by their first name, sends them emails when goods of their taste are added, or recommends goods services based on their demographic profile, previous visits, etc. An astute surfer though will also see the privacy drawbacks in such services. Who else is being provided this information? Is there a way to ensure the security of this information? What happens with the information if the company meets financial difficulties and has to liquidate its assets? Where does all that "private information" go?

Many studies over the last few years have suggested that a majority of consumers are concerned about when, what and how their personal information is being collected, how this information is being used and whether it is being protected. They want to know whether the information is being sold or shared with others, and if so with whom and for what purposes. They also want to have control over their privacy in today's digital age where strides in telecommunication, storage and software technologies have made monitoring a person's activities effortless.

The Internet, once a research tool has grown into a mammoth educational, entertainment and commercial implementation. The advent of commerce on the Internet exposed the lack of security over this public network. The incorporation of encryption (especially strong 128 bit encryption) into Internet browsers and web servers quelled this concern to a certain extent. There was still the matter of storing the information sent over the Internet in a safe manner. Firewalls and encryption software evolved to ensure that the computers and data on the Internet were safer.

What can be done regarding these important issues? Part of the solution is to secure important data - more specifically, using strong encryption. Educating end users and corporations on the use of email and file encryption software, data encryption during transmission using VPNs, password encryption on public interfaces and use of encryption software like PGP, and secure browsers will lead us closer to the end goal of a safer Internet.

The growth of the worldwide Internet user base and with Internet based transactions believed to reach well over a trillion dollars in the next three years, it makes sense for the parties involved to secure the Internet. Haphazard handling of financial and personal information can lead to the Internet being constantly associated with fraud and privacy abuses instead of being a viable commerce medium.