Personal Privacy - (data privacy - personal data)

Author: Yana A. St. Clair, Esq.

Personal Privacy

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines privacy as freedom from unauthorized intrusion. However, if one was to delve into a more philosophical examination of the concept of privacy, we come to realize that the fundamental idea of privacy is so sacred, that in essence it encompasses what it means to be an individual. 
When we engage in social interaction we carefully choose how much about ourselves we are comfortable sharing with others. An individual’s personality, and whether they tend to identify as an introvert, or extrovert, strongly dictates the degree to which they are willing to open up to others, and allow them into their cautiously guarded little shell that we think of as the self, the me, or the I…

While we may often encounter the outgoing type, who thrives in unfamiliar environments and is fueled by public discourse and rarely shies away from a stage or podium, at the other end of the spectrum exists a timorous soul, who may often exert great care and effort in an attempt to prevent others, even those perceived as close and relatively safe, from discovering too much personal information about what is hidden inside, and what truly makes them tick. 
Nevertheless, regardless of personality type, and level of willingness to jump out into the great unknown with wide open arms, or alternatively retreat into a reclusive cave, every individual prefers to have personal control over what they choose to share, and who to share it with. This is the root of the concept of privacy, and it is so highly regarded, that it is generally considered to be an inalienable right, one that transcends geopolitical boundaries. That being said, we are all well aware that in order to be functioning members of society, we often have to give up certain rights, to a greater or lesser extent, no matter how near and dear to us they may be.

With regards to the right to privacy, in the high-tech virtual world we live in today, it seems next to impossible to step outside, or even merely wake up, without beginning to share personal information. Between our mobile phones and their tracking devices, Alexa picking up our conversations and having the ability to telephone the police if it detects certain key words or phrases we utter, or our synchronized fitbit sharing key medical information about our pulse, blood pressure and sleep patterns, not only are we divulging more personal data with the world than we would ever intentionally and rationally choose to, but often we’re doing so without even thinking twice.
Many individuals elect to navigate on a safer, less exposed path, and opt out of fully embracing the iLife, and all of its magical conveniences, but regardless, they are still constantly sharing personal data. Putting aside the obvious and frequently discussed methods of data sharing, such as mobile devices, we also share personal information through much simpler channels which we may not even think about, because they appear to be, in a sense archaic. However, every time one needs the benefits of any type of service, it is imperative that the individual share personal information with the company in order to receive the assistance they desire.

Prior to entering into any kind of service contract, or even just to obtain information, it is necessary that you answer questions, fill out a form, and provide personal details, such as your name, telephone number, address, etc. In a world when the majority of such transactions are conducted virtually, companies are beginning to require that you grant them access to certain data stored on the device from which you are contacting them, in order to maximize your experience. As you can guess, this plunges us into a very gray area regarding what the company needs to know about you, and why…

Fortunately, savvy consumers often question the need for having to share certain types of information, for example, what does using an airline’s app to check in or get my boarding pass, have to do with granting them access to all the photos and contacts on my mobile phone?!?  These never-ending demands for seemingly unnecessary private information have become so common place, that governments and agencies throughout the world have taken notice, and enacted detailed, strict requirements by which companies have to abide, when they are attempting to elicit any type of personal data from consumers. 
In a series dedicated to this relevant and hot topic, we will spend the next several issues exploring these matters, how they are being addressed globally, and what it all means for companies and consumers.

Disclosure: Please note that none of the information contained within the above column is to be considered legal advice.

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