Don’t let the pace of technology outrun your data protection policies

data-protection-300x180The recent news of the death of Margaret Thatcher brought back to mind my memories of her election to parliament.  As a schoolboy (I am 45 years old now) it was clearly a historical event.  On a rare occasion, I was listening to the news on the radio in the car to school with my mother (I usually walked, didn’t we all in the 1970s).

Wanting to check my facts today I turned to the internet for information.  This made me start to think about life today versus the late 1970s.

Now don’t turn away, I’m not going to get all political – I get enough of that from my family (from both points of view!) – I was instead thinking of our use of computers.  At a personal level, my immediate reach for the internet made me think of our changing use of technology, both in the home and the workplace.
It seems inconceivable to my children (aged 11 and 14) that we did not have computers when I was their age.  As I type this I’m on the train to Edinburgh for a short family holiday, typing on a touchscreen laptop, cursing the intermittent 3G broadband, whilst my daughter plays on an iPad, my son reads on a Kindle, my wife plays Scrabble on her smartphone against a friend and I’m contemplating listening to some music on my phone.  As well as their phones, the kids each have iPod Touch with them to act as cameras and music devices.  So between four of us we have smartphones, iPods, iPad, Kindle and laptop – 9 devices in total, all capable of internet connectivity.  We only have as few as 9 as I banned my son from bringing his 17” gaming laptop and my wife left her laptop at home (hint – there’s very little left to steal at our house).
So there’s no argument about one thing then, we are carrying more computing power than was used to put men on the moon.  And we’re only going as far as Scotland!

Here is a quick timeline of my IT history for all you IT fans to get misty eyed over:

1981:  ZX81 – 1kB of memory (I owned one of these, I sold it to buy the following….)
1982:  BBC Model B – 32kB of memory (my brother and I owned one of these, in fact I still have it, much to my wife’s despair)
1983:  Commodore PET – 64kB of memory – my school had just one of these to share between 1,200 kids
1985-1988:  Mainframe computers at University.  Who remembers JANET?
1988:  IBM PS2 – no idea about the memory, but it had a “huge” 10MB hard drive – the first PC bought at Barnes Roffe in 1988.  If I remember correctly, they were £2,500 each!
I think I got a dial up modem in 1991.
I think I got broadband in 1995.

Nothing useful happened on the internet for years, then…

I can now watch telly on my phone!  (Okay, we can also do much more, but I think watching telly on the phone sums it up for me.)

So, back to the present, as head of IT for the firm, what worries me about computing today?  Simple, three questions:

1. Where’s my firm’s data?
2. Is it backed up?
3. How long do I need to keep it for?

Note, I said “what worries me”.  Obviously, “what excites” is a different point.  We have a world of opportunities to interact with clients going forward, using better software and better hardware and, hopefully, achieving more efficiency.  But “what worries me” has not changed since 1988!

With cloud services we now face a step-change in data storage volumes, worldwide access, traceability, risk of loss, etc.  Recently I saw our first client be locked out of their accounting data because they could not pay their could-based data host.  This caused major legal headaches for the directors.  They could not fulfil their legal duties on accounting records; they could not even do the necessary payroll tax returns!

And there’s more to think about:  The use of Dropbox and its equivalents brings up a lot of legal points.  Who owns the data?  Where is it?  (The US Patriot Act scares a lot of people here; is your data on US servers, what reach might the US authorities have into your affairs?)  How safe is the data?  Are your emails secure?  Is Skype encryption legal in all countries your audio/video call passes through between you and your co-caller?  Where does that data traffic go anyway?  Have any of your staff mislaid a memory stick?  Lost a laptop?  Are they encrypted?
The list of worries is almost endless.

So my sermon today is:

1. Review your data policy
2. Educate your staff and colleagues – explain why it’s important
3. GOTO 1 (that’s a BBC Basic joke for you older people out there to recognise)

Good luck to all!

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