Data Protection: Why and How

by: Paul Abbey

The advent of world-spanning computer technologies has created an environment in which all sorts of data is easily accessible by almost anyone. At the same time, more and more of our personal data is being collected and stored in computer systems. How can we be sure that it's safe? Data protection systems and technologies exist to protect our privacy.

Data protection is geared towards protecting personal information such as family details and medical records - information we may not want to share with just anyone. Data protection schemes aim to guarantee everyone a basic minimum of privacy in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People dealing with sensitive government or corporate information may also rely on data protection.

Data protection begins with the type of privacy agreements which you will often see when you're asked to enter personal information into a website. This is the first stage of data protection - communication, ensuring that all those who are party to information exchange agree on what constitutes private data. Protection of such information can't otherwise be assumed, as the rules on what ought to fall under data protection schemes differ in different countries and between different organisations.

Whenever sensitive information is stored on computer systems, the law demands that it must be subject to adequate data protection. Special data protection software has been developed for this purpose, designed to identify this information and keep it separate from other records. Data protection depends on good information management, limiting access and, in some cases, limiting the period for which information is stored. Data protection software may also limit the context in which sensitive information can be utilised.

The advent of secure data protection systems minimises the risk of identity fraud faced by computer users sharing personal information. Data protection is essential in ensuring that emerging technologies do not undermine the older systems on which society is based.