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MySQL, Open Source, Software design, Web

Will ideas of the Massachusetts law spread?

04.29.10 | Comment?

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On reddit, I found this article regarding a new law i Massachusetts that is to increase the security of personally identifiable information.

If you have personally identifiable information (PII) about a Massachusetts resident, such as a first and last name, then you have to encrypt that data on the wire and as it’s persisted. Sending PII over HTTP instead of HTTPS? That’s a big no no. Storing the name of a customer in SQL Server without the data being encrypted?  No way, Jose. You’ll get a fine of $5,000 per breach or lost record. If you have a database that contains 1,000 names of Massachusetts residents and lose it without the data being encrypted that’s $5,000,000. Yikes.

The idea is good (yay – better security for anyone registering on a website) and bad (expensive). As a consultant in a country not covered by the law I could care less, but is this in general a good idea? Securing data and sending sensitive information across secure connections is always a good idea, and it could hit the EU soon. Documenting how you secure the Personally Identifiable Information (PII)? Who can argue with that being a good idea? As an IT consultant you won’t hear me cry myself to sleep.

But the proportions of the legislation seem unclear. If you log on to my website (securely of course), and I feed you the following pages through clear text HTTP – can I be fined if your name appear on the page as in “Reader XYZ is logged in”?

I guess so.

It strikes me that there is no level of sensitivity defined – anything considered personal must be secured. As a legislator, it seems very easy to do this when you don’t have to pick up the bill.

If this kind of legislation should hit Europe, I hope someone would elaborate a bit on the do’s and dont’s:

  • Are all kinds of data included? Can I be fined if you, as a Massachusetts citizen, post a comment to this and include your name? (the database is secured, but nothing is sent through HTTPS)
  • Would it make sense to allow users to wave their rights, and thereby allow users to work with online applications that are not 100% secure?

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