Tech Time Warp - Electronic data  privacy issues flare up - June 1991

Posted by Lauren Beliveau on Jul 1, 2016 2:22:42 PM

techtimewarp.jpgThis tech time warp goes back to June 1991, right after the Gulf War ended and the cost of gas was $1.12 a gallon. This was the year that Phil Zimmermann introduced PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), a program that encrypts and decrypts emails. This was a revelation for email security, and 25 years later “as of yet, there is no publicly known method of breaking PGP encryption by cryptographic or computational means. ” While PGP became big in the ’90s, the U.S. government was working on a new standard to authenticate data—but not encrypt it.

US Electronic Data Move Challenged on Privacy Issue

On June 29, 1991, the New York Times featured an article by John Markoff titled, US Electronic Data Move Challenged on Privacy Issue. According to the article, the government wanted to introduce a federal standard for authenticating data, but by doing so it might have open up a “trap door” for the government to look at private data. Markoff wrote: “Earlier this year an anti-terrorism bill introduced in Congress called on the computer and telecommunication industries to permit Federal agencies to look at private data. But the statement was later dropped from the bill after extensive public opposition.”


The new standard that the government intended on implementing was not to encrypt data but rather to ensure its authenticity. According the article, government officials  were also working on “final arrangements for a planned ’digital signature’ standard that would permit electronic authentication of documents and access systems as well as protecting against computer viruses and other forms of electronic tampering.”

Privacy Issues and the US Government Now

Fast forward 25 years, and data protection and encryption still remain hot topics. For example, one issue that has been all over the news lately is the Brexit. Although there has been a lot to debate following the U.K. vote to leave the European Union, it looks like it could help the U.S. and the EU come to a new data privacy agreement.

A recent Fortune article explains, “Brexit will likely improve the odds for a fragile new data privacy agreement between the U.S. and the European Union.” And that is good news for U.S. companies doing business overseas. The proposed new Privacy Shield agreement would regulate how U.S. companies handle EU customers’ data, and vote on the matter is expected later this month. Channelnomics pointed out that if Brexit could also eventually lead into an additional agreement between the UK and the U.S. regarding privacy. Either way, this is something IT service providers will need to keep a close eye on over the summer.

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Topics: Tech Time Warp

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