Information privacy

Information privacy

Information privacy, or data privacy is the relationship between collection and dissemination of data, technology, the public expectation of privacy, and the legal and political issues surrounding them.

Privacy concerns exist wherever personally identifiable information is collected and stored – in digital form or otherwise. Improper or non-existent disclosure control can be the root cause for privacy issues. Data privacy issues can arise in response to information from a wide range of sources, such as:

The challenge in data privacy is to share data while protecting personally identifiable information. The fields of data security and information security design and utilize software, hardware and human resources to address this issue.


Information types

Various types of personal information often come under privacy concerns.


The ability to control what information one reveals about oneself over the Internet, and who can access that information, has become a growing concern. These concerns include whether email can be stored or read by third parties without consent, or whether third parties can track the web sites someone has visited. Another concern is whether web sites which are visited collect, store, and possibly share personally identifiable information about users.

The advent of various search engines and the use of data mining created a capability for data about individuals to be collected and combined from a wide variety of sources very easily.[1][2][3] The FTC has provided a set of guidelines that represent widely-accepted concepts concerning fair information practices in an electronic marketplace called the Fair Information Practice Principles.

In order not to give away too much personal information, e-mails should be encrypted and browsing of webpages as well as other online activities should be done traceless via anonymizers, or, in cases those are not trusted, by open source distributed anonymizers, so called mix nets, such as I2P - The Anonymous Network or tor.

Cable television

The ability to control what information one reveals about oneself over cable television, and who can access that information. For example, third parties can track IP TV programs someone has watched at any given time. "The addition of any information in a broadcasting stream is not required for an audience rating survey, additional devices are not requested to be installed in the houses of viewers or listeners, and without the necessity of their cooperation, audience ratings can be automatically performed in real-time."[4]


A person may not wish for their medical records to be revealed to others. This may be because they have concern that it might affect their insurance coverages or employment. Or it may be because they would not wish for others to know about medical or psychological conditions or treatments which would be embarrassing. Revealing medical data could also reveal other details about one's personal life (such as about one's sexual activity for example). Privacy Breach Physicians and psychiatrists in many cultures and countries have standards for doctor-patient relationships which include maintaining confidentiality. In some cases the physician-patient privilege is legally protected. These practices are in place to protect the dignity of patients, and to ensure that patients will feel free to reveal complete and accurate information required for them to receive the correct treatment.[5]


Information about a person's financial transactions, including the amount of assets, positions held in stocks or funds, outstanding debts, and purchases can be sensitive. If criminals gain access to information such as a person's accounts or credit card numbers, that person could become the victim of fraud or identity theft. Information about a person's purchases can reveal a great deal about that person's history, such as places he/she has visited, whom he/she has contacted with, products he/she has used, his/her activities and habits, or medications he/she has used. In some cases corporations might wish to use this information to target individuals with marketing customized towards those individual's personal preferences, something which that person may or may not approve of.


Political privacy has been a concern since voting systems emerged in ancient times. The secret ballot is the simplest and most widespread measure to ensure that political views are not known to anyone other than the voter themself—it is nearly universal in modern democracy, and considered to be a basic right of citizenship. In fact even where other rights of privacy do not exist, this type of privacy very often does. The United States has laws governing privacy of private health information, see HIPAA and the HITECH Act.


The legal protection of the right to privacy in general - and of data privacy in particular - varies greatly around the world.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

There is a significant challenge for organizations that hold sensitive data to achieve and maintain compliance with so many regulations that have relevance to information privacy.


In Canada, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) went into effect on 1 January 2001, applicable to federally regulated organizations. All other organizations were included on 1 January 2004.[6][7] The PIPEDA brings Canada into compliance with the requirements of the European Commission's directive on data privacy.

PIPEDA specifies the rules to govern collection, use or disclosure of the personal information in the course of recognizing the right of privacy of individuals with respect to their personal information. It also specifies the rules for the organizations to collect, use, and disclose personal information.

The PIPEDA apply to:

  1. The organizations collects, uses or disclosure in the matter of commercial use.
  2. The organizations and the employee of the organization collect, use, or discloses in the course of operation of a federal work, undertaking or business.

The PIPEDA Does NOT apply to

  1. Government institutions to which the Privacy Act applies.
  2. Individuals who collect, use, or disclose personal information for personal purpose and use.
  3. Organizations which collect, use, or disclose personal information only for the purpose of journalist, art or literary.

As specified in PIPEDA:

"Personal Information" means information about an identifiable individual, but does not include the name, title or business address or telephone number of an employee of an organization.

"Organization"means an association, a partnership, a person and a trade union.

"federal work, undertaking or business" means any work, undertaking or business that is within the legislative authority of Parliament. Including

  1. a work, undertaking or business that is operated or carried on for or in connection with navigation and shipping, whether inland or maritime, including the operation of ships and transportation by ship anywhere in Canada;
  2. a railway, canal, telegraph or other work or undertaking that connects a province with another province, or that extends beyond the limits of a province;
  3. a line of ships that connects a province with another province, or that extends beyond the limits of a province;
  4. a ferry between a province and another province or between a province and a country other than Canada;
  5. aerodromes, aircraft or a line of air transportation;
  6. a radio broadcasting station;
  7. a bank;
  8. a work that, although wholly situated within a province, is before or after its execution declared by Parliament to be for the general advantage of Canada or for the advantage of two or more provinces;
  9. a work, undertaking or business outside the exclusive legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces; and
  10. a work, undertaking or business to which federal laws, within the meaning of section 2 of the Oceans Act, apply under section 20 of that Act and any regulations made under paragraph 26(1)(k) of that Act.

The PIPEDA gives individuals the right to:

  1. understand the reasons why organizations collect, use, or disclose personal information.
  2. expect organizations to collect, use or disclose personal information in a reasonable and appropriate way.
  3. understand who in the organizations pays the responsibility for protecting individuals' personal information.
  4. expect organizations to protect the personal information in a reasonable and security way.
  5. expect the personal information held by the organizations to be accurate, complete, and up-to-date.
  6. have the access to their personal information and ask for any corrections or have the right to make complain towards the organizations.

The PIPEDA requires organizations to:

  1. obtain consent before they collect, use, and disclose any personal information.
  2. collect personal information in a reasonable, appropriate, and lawful ways.
  3. establish personal information policies that are clear, reasonable,and ready to protect individuals' person information.


The right to data privacy is heavily regulated and actively enforced in Europe. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides a right to respect for one's "private and family life, his home and his correspondence", subject to certain restrictions.[8] The European Court of Human Rights has given this article a very broad interpretation in its jurisprudence. According to the Court's case law the collection of information by officials of the state about an individual without his consent always falls within the scope of Article 8. Thus, gathering information for the official census, recording fingerprints and photographs in a police register, collecting medical data or details of personal expenditures and implementing a system of personal identification has been judged to raise data privacy issues.

Any state interference with a person's privacy is only acceptable for the Court if three conditions are fulfilled:

  1. The interference is in accordance with the law
  2. The interference pursues a legitimate goal
  3. The interference is necessary in a democratic society

The government is not the only entity which may pose a threat to data privacy. Other citizens, and private companies most importantly, engage in far more threatening activities, especially since the automated processing of data became widespread. The Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data was concluded within the Council of Europe in 1981. This convention obliges the signatories to enact legislation concerning the automatic processing of personal data, which many duly did.

As all the member states of the European Union are also signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, the European Commission was concerned that diverging data protection legislation would emerge and impede the free flow of data within the EU zone. Therefore the European Commission decided to harmonize data protection regulation and proposed the Directive on the protection of personal data, which member states had to transpose into law by the end of 1998.

The directive contains a number of key principles with which member states must comply. Anyone processing personal data must comply with the eight enforceable principles of good practice.[9] They state that the data must be:

  1. Fairly and lawfully processed.
  2. Processed for limited purposes.
  3. Adequate, relevant and not excessive.
  4. Accurate.
  5. Kept no longer than necessary.
  6. Processed in accordance with the data subject's rights.
  7. Secure.
  8. Transferred only to countries with adequate protection.

Personal data covers both facts and opinions about the individual[citation needed]. It also includes information regarding the intentions of the data controller towards the individual, although in some limited circumstances exemptions will apply. With processing, the definition is far wider than before. For example, it incorporates the concepts of "obtaining", "holding" and "disclosing"[citation needed].

All EU member states adopted legislation pursuant this directive or adapted their existing laws. Each country also has its own supervisory authority to monitor the level of protection.[citation needed]


France adapted its existing law, no. 78-17 of 6 January 1978 concerning information technology, files and civil liberties".[10]


In Germany, both the federal government and the states enacted legislation.[11]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the Data Protection Act 1984 was repealed by the Data Protection Act 1998 (Information Commissioner).[12] Due to changes in the law, employers must inform staff in advance if they plan to monitor their emails, phone calls and Internet use. The Home Office has published a consultation paper detailing whom it believes should have access to private data and for how long. This proposal goes beyond the current access to such information by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, and HM Revenue and Customs. The new proposals would extend the number of agencies that can access this communications data to include other agencies with crime-fighting roles. Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, called the plans “a systematic attack on the right to privacy.”[13]


While Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU) or of the European Economic Area, it has partially implemented the EU Directive on the protection of personal data in 2006 by acceding to the STE 108 agreement of the Council of Europe and a corresponding amendment of the federal Data Protection Act. However, Swiss law imposes less restrictions upon data processing than the Directive in several respects.[14]

In Switzerland, the right to privacy is guaranteed in article 13 of the Swiss Federal Constitution. The Swiss Federal Data Protection Act (DPA)[15] and the Swiss Federal Data Protection Ordinance (DPO) entered into force on July 1, 1993. The latest amendments of the DPA and the DPO entered into force on January 1, 2008.

The DPA applies to the processing of personal data by private persons and federal government agencies. Unlike the data protection legislation of many other countries, the DPA protects both personal data pertaining to natural persons and legal entities.[16]

The Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner in particular supervises compliance of the federal government agencies with the DPA, provides advice to private persons on data protection, conducts investigations and makes recommendations concerning data protection practices.

Some data files must be registered with the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner before they are created. In the case of a transfer of personal data outside of Switzerland, special requirements need to be met and, depending on the circumstances, the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner must be informed before the transfer is made.[16]

Most Swiss cantons have enacted their own data protection laws regulating the processing of personal data by cantonal and municipal bodies.

United States

Data privacy is not highly legislated or regulated in the U.S.. In the United States, access to private data contained in for example third-party credit reports may be sought when seeking employment or medical care, or making automobile, housing, or other purchases on credit terms. Although partial regulations exist, there is no all-encompassing law regulating the acquisition, storage, or use of personal data in the U.S. In general terms, in the U.S., whoever can be troubled to key in the data, is deemed to own the right to store and use it, even if the data were collected without permission. For instance the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA), are all examples of U.S. federal laws with provisions which tend to favor information flow efficiencies and operational profits over the rights of individuals to control their own personal data.

The Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution to grant a right of privacy to individuals in Griswold v. Connecticut. Very few states, however, recognize an individual's right to privacy, a notable exception being California. An inalienable right to privacy is enshrined in the California Constitution's article 1, section 1, and the California legislature has enacted several pieces of legislation aimed at protecting this right. The California Online Privacy Protection Act (OPPA) of 2003 requires operators of commercial web sites or online services that collect personal information on California residents through a web site to conspicuously post a privacy policy on the site and to comply with its policy.

The safe harbor arrangement was developed by the United States Department of Commerce in order to provide a means for U.S. companies to demonstrate compliance with European Commission directives and thus to simplify relations between them and European businesses.

Safe Harbor Program and Passenger Name Record issues

The United States Department of Commerce created the International Safe Harbor Privacy Principles certification program in response to the 1995 Directive on Data Protection (Directive 95/46/EC) of the European Commission.[17] Directive 95/46/EC declares in Chapter IV Article 25 that personal data may only be transferred from the countries in the European Economic Area to countries which provide adequate privacy protection. Historically, establishing adequacy required the creation of national laws broadly equivalent to those implemented by Directive 95/46/EU. Although there are exceptions to this blanket prohibition - for example where the disclosure to a country outside the EEA is made with the consent of the relevant individual (Article 26(1)(a)) - they are limited in practical scope. As a result, Article 25 created a legal risk to organisations which transfer personal data from Europe to the United States.

The program has an important issue on the exchange of Passenger Name Record information between the EU and the US. According to the EU directive, personal data may only be transferred to third countries if that country provides an adequate level of protection. Some exceptions to this rule are provided, for instance when the controller himself can guarantee that the recipient will comply with the data protection rules.

The European Commission has set up the "Working party on the Protection of Individuals with regard to the Processing of Personal Data," commonly known as the "Article 29 Working Party". The Working Party gives advice about the level of protection in the European Union and third countries.

The Working Party negotiated with U.S. representatives about the protection of personal data, the Safe Harbor Principles were the result. Notwithstanding that approval, the self assessment approach of the Safe Harbor remains controversial with a number of European privacy regulators and commentators.[18]

The Safe Harbor program addresses this issue in a unique way: rather than a blanket law imposed on all organisations in the United States, a voluntary program is enforced by the FTC. U.S. organisations which register with this program, having self-assessed their compliance with a number of standards, are "deemed adequate" for the purposes of Article 25. Personal information can be sent to such organisations from the EEA without the sender being in breach of Article 25 or its EU national equivalents. The Safe Harbor was approved as providing adequate protection for personal data, for the purposes of Article 25(6), by the European Commission on 26 July 2000.[19]

The Safe Harbor is not a perfect solution to the challenges posed by Article 25. In particular, adoptee organisations need to carefully consider their compliance with the onward transfer obligations, where personal data originating in the EU is transferred to the US Safe Harbor, and then onward to a third country. The alternative compliance approach of "binding corporate rules" , recommended by many EU privacy regulators, resolves this issue. In addition, any dispute arising in relation to the transfer of HR data to the US Safe Harbor must be heard by a panel of EU privacy regulators.[20]

In July 2007, a new, controversial,[21] Passenger Name Record agreement between the US and the EU was undersigned. [22] A short time afterwards, the Bush administration gave exemption for the Department of Homeland Security, for the Arrival and Departure System (ADIS) and for the Automated Target System from the 1974 Privacy Act.[23]

In February 2008, Jonathan Faull, the head of the EU's Commission of Home Affairs, complained about the US bilateral policy concerning PNR.[24] The US had signed in February 2008 a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Czech Republic in exchange of a VISA waiver scheme, without concerting before with Brussels.[21] The tensions between Washington and Brussels are mainly caused by a lesser level of data protection in the US, especially since foreigners do not benefit from the US Privacy Act of 1974. Other countries approached for bilateral MOU included the United Kingdom, Estonia, Germany and Greece.[25]

Protecting privacy in information systems

As heterogeneous information systems with differing privacy rules are interconnected and information is shared, policy appliances will be required to reconcile, enforce and monitor an increasing amount of privacy policy rules (and laws). There are two categories of technology to address privacy protection in commercial IT systems: communication and enforcement.

Policy Communication
  • P3P - The Platform for Privacy Preferences. P3P is a standard for communicating privacy practices and comparing them to the preferences of individuals.
Policy Enforcement
  • XACML - The Extensible Access Control Markup Language together with its Privacy Profile is a standard for expressing privacy policies in a machine-readable language which a software system can use to enforce the policy in enterprise IT systems.
  • EPAL - The Enterprise Privacy Authorization Language is very similar to XACML, but is not yet a standard.
  • WS-Privacy - "Web Service Privacy" will be a specification for communicating privacy policy in web services. For example, it may specify how privacy policy information can be embedded in the SOAP envelope of a web service message.
Protecting Privacy on the Internet

On the internet you almost always give away a lot of information about yourself: Unencrypted e-mails can be read by the administrators of the e-mail server, if the connection is not encrypted (no https), and also the internet service provider and other parties sniffing the traffic of that connection are able to know the contents. Furthermore, the same applies to any kind of traffic generated on the internet (webbrowsing, instant messaging, ...) In order not to give away too much personal information, e-mails can be encrypted and browsing of webpages as well as other online activities can be done traceless via anonymizers, or, in cases those are not trusted, by open source distributed anonymizers, so called mix nets. Renowned open-source mix nets are I2P - The Anonymous Network or tor.

See also

Scholars working in the field


  1. ^ "Research explores data mining, privacy". USA Today. 2006-06-18. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  2. ^ In this data-mining society, privacy advocates shudder
  3. ^ Swartz, Nikki (2006). "U.S. Demands Google Web Data". Information Management Journal. 
  5. ^ Doctor-Patient Confidentiality: Encyclopedia of Everyday Law
  6. ^ Privacy Commissioner of Canada
  7. ^ The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act - Privacy Commissioner of Canada
  8. ^ default
  9. ^ Universal HTTP Redirector
  10. ^ More information is available on the website of the CNIL (in French only).
  11. ^ Internetauftritt des Bundesbeauftragten für den Datenschutz und die Informationsfreiheit
  12. ^ Information Commissioner's Office - ICO
  13. ^ The 'snoopers' charter' explained The Guardian, Wednesday March 12, 2003
  14. ^ See the Federal Council's Message to Parliament, BBl 2003 2101 p. 2117 et seq.
  15. ^ Swiss Federal Data Protection Act (DPA)
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ Justice and Home Affairs - Data Protection - Legislative documents
  18. ^
  19. ^ EUR-Lex - 32000D0520 - EN
  20. ^ 10 March 2005
  21. ^ a b A divided Europe wants to protect its personal data wanted by the US, Rue 89, 4 March 2008 (English)
  22. ^ See [1].
  23. ^ Statewatch, US changes the privacy rules to exemption access to personal data September 2007
  24. ^ Brussels attacks new US security demands, European Observer. See also Statewatch newsletter February 2008
  25. ^ Statewatch, March 2008

Further reading

  • Philip E. Agre; Marc Rotenberg (1998). Technology and privacy: the new landscape. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-51101-8. 

External links

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