The recent rash of data security breaches in the UK could be avoided in future if the government and civil service pay attention to a group of new privacy-protection technologies being developed in Japan.

The new methods are the result of a three-year collaboration [Subscription link] between NTT, Hitachi and Tokyo University of Science designed to safely encrypt and transmit personal information and to keep it safe in the event of a catastrophic data loss in one location.

Common sense prevails

NTT's contribution is a technique for distributing encrypted data to three different locations for safe storage more efficiently than is currently possible. Instead of sending the total package of data three times, it compresses it all to around two-thirds the size, which can make significant savings in terms of time and money.

Hitachi's main part of the system relies on old-fashioned common sense. It involves applying different levels of encryption to different items. More-sensitive pieces of data, particularly financial information, can be hidden behind more layers of security than matters of public knowledge, such as someone's name. Simple really.

Processing power

Lastly, working with the university, Hitachi's second trick is to enable low-power devices like mobile phones to apply advanced encryption techniques that are currently the realm of high-end computers to anything they transmit, whether that's video or online financial transactions.

Taken together, the entire suite of data-protection techniques promises considerably more peace of mind than does an agency that routinely hands CDs to bike couriers with a simple password written on the disks themselves.