An Eye on Privacy

eWEEK Labs looks at IT's roles in safeguarding data and privacy.

There are some supremely knotty questions surrounding the issues of privacy, especially for enterprise IT professionals, whose very jobs put them in the unique and sometimes perilous position of having to protect data on many fronts.

"Privacy for Data Systems," the topic of an invitation-only symposium held earlier this month at IBMs Almaden Research Center, explored some of the privacy challenges faced by enterprises and the role IT managers have to play in ensuring that private data is secured.

Sept. 11, 2001, shone a glaring spotlight on privacy. People who had never given a second thought to privacy were suddenly willing to give it up because of terrorism fears.

Things have become a bit more balanced since then, but the issue of who has the right to know what—and who has the right to obscure what—can be complex, troubling and potentially dangerous for companies that dont have their organizational culture, policies and technical systems in order.

IT managers should start a discussion on privacy that enables company management to remain at least a step ahead of the many privacy regulations that are likely to emerge during the next several years. IT experts, for example, are uniquely positioned to advocate data storage and access policies that protect customers and employees from the kinds of increased surveillance activities that are being developed by organizations including DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the FBI.

Rakesh Agrawal, chairman of the Almaden symposium and IBM fellow, spoke with eWEEK Labs about some of the tough data privacy questions facing IT.

"Until now, the question has been how to make sure data was stored and accessible," said Agrawal at the symposium, in San Jose, Calif. "Now, we think about how to make databases forget information that is no longer needed. We are working on the question of associating information about data expiry."