Data privacy

From Academic Kids

Data privacy refers to the evolving relationship between technology and the legal right to, or public expectation of privacy in the collection and sharing of data.

Privacy problems exist wherever uniquely identifiable data relating to a person or persons are collected and stored, in digital form or otherwise. Improper or non-existent disclosure control can be the root cause for privacy issues. The most common sources of data that are affected by data privacy issues are:

  • Health information
  • Criminal justice
  • Financial information
  • Genetic information

The challenge in data privacy is to share data while protecting the personally identifiable information. Consider the example of health data which are collected from hospitals in a district; it is standard practice to share this only in the aggregate. The idea of sharing the data in the aggregate is to ensure that only non-identifiable data are shared.

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

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in its article 12 that:

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.


Protecting Privacy in Information Systems

Increasingly, as heterogeneous information systems with different privacy rules are interconnected, technical control and logging mechanisms (policy appliances) will be required to reconcile, enforce and monitor privacy policy rules (and laws) as information is shared across systems and to ensure accountability for information use.

North America

Data privacy is not highly legislated or regulated in the U.S.. In the United States, access to private data is culturally acceptable in many cases, such as credit reports for employment or housing purposes. Although partial regulations exist, for instance the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and HIPAA, there is no all-encompassing law regulating the use of personal data. The culture of free speech in the U.S. may be a reason for the reluctance to trust the government to protect personal information.

Very few states recognize an individual's right to privacy, a notable exception being California.

In Canada, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) went into effect in relation to federally-regulated organizations on 1 January 2001, and in relation to all other organizations on 1 January 2004. For more information, visit the website of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada ( The text of the Act may be found at [1] (


The right to data privacy is heavily regulated and rigidly 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. 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 or 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 have 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) pursues a legitimate goal and (3) is necessary in a democratic society. For more information, please refer to Human Rights Handbook no. 1 ( (PDF) or the Council of Europe data protection page (

The government isn't the only one who might pose a threat to data privacy, far from it. 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. Therefor the European Commission decided to harmonize data protection regulation and proposed the Directive on the protection of personal data.

The directive contains a number of key principles which must be complied with. Anyone processing personal data must comply with the eight enforceable principles of good practice.
They say that data must be:

  • fairly and lawfully processed;
  • processed for limited purposes;
  • adequate, relevant and not excessive;
  • accurate;
  • not kept longer than necessary;
  • processed in accordance with the data subject's rights;
  • secure;
  • not transferred to countries without adequate protection.

Personal data covers both facts and opinions about the individual. 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'. For more details on these data principles, read the article about the directive on the protection of personal data or visit the EU data protection page (

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.

External links


  • Privacy International (
  • Privaterra ( - Provides technological education and support for civil society organizations in the area of data privacy, secure communications and information security.


  • Laboratory for International Data Privacy ( at Carnegie Mellon University.
  • HIPAA ( - U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office for Civil Rights, webpage on medical privacy.



  • Council of Europe data protection page (
  • EU data protection page ( - The European Commission provides elaborate information on the following subjects:
    • Legislative documents
    • Transposition and implementation of Directive 95/46/EC
    • European Data Protection Supervisor
    • National Data Protection Commissioners
    • Art. 29 Data protection Working Party
    • Adequacy of protection in third countries and model contracts for the transfer of personal data to third countries
    • International links



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