Do Not Ignore or Sacrifice Personal Privacy

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The term ‘privacy’ can be defined as “a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people.”

I think it’s safe to say that in today’s internet-dependent, ever-connected world it’s simply not realistic to guarantee that anybody’s personal details or that of an organization are ever free from observation or disturbance to at least some degree. Whether it’s an authority or a malicious hacker, if somebody wants to find out something about you badly enough, they will.

However, this does not mean that personal privacy is something that should be ignored or sacrificed just because we now live in such a digital-dependent age, and although the average internet user may be a long way away from grasping what actually makes good privacy on the web – you just have to look at the amount of personal information still shared on social media as a prime example – there’s definitely been a notable change in attitudes towards privacy in recent times.

“Using the internet and sharing more data online has opened up more questions about privacy,” independent consultant Dr Jessica Barker told Infosecurity. “A lot of people care very deeply about privacy issues and it has been in the news a lot more in the last few years.”

Whilst privacy awareness is something that has slowly, although steadily, gained pace in the last decade, it was undoubtedly the Snowden leaks in 2013 that fast-tracked the issue to the publically discussed topic it is today.

“The Snowden revelations helped to propel the privacy debate into the public sphere,” said Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group (ORG). “Many privacy activists had suspected that surveillance on this scale had been happening – Snowden confirmed their fears. Much of the public – and even our MPs – had no idea, largely because GCHQ built these programs without prior parliamentary debate.

“ORG has seen a significant growth in our members over the last three years, which we believe is in part because of this growing awareness of privacy as a result of the Snowden revelations,” he added. So where has this left public attitudes towards privacy in 2016?

For me, this was made clear earlier this year when, on a train one morning, I overheard a conversation about the San Bernardino gunmen standoff between Apple and the FBI. It struck me that instead of talking about the miserable weather outside or the soccer match the night before, commuters were engaged in a discussion about data privacy and what the ramifications of the case would mean for the general public, which is, in all honesty, not something you see very often.

Similarly, with the Internet of Things (IoT) continuing to snowball in both the workplace and the home, it’s becoming ever-clearer that people are growing more concerned with the privacy threat IoT devices pose. This was evident in a recent study by Mobile Ecosystem Forum which found that 62% of consumers are worried that a world of connected devices will see their privacy impeded.

Looking forward then, with concerns over privacy now so widespread, it’s obvious that it is going to play an unprecedented role in the handling of business across Europe in the years to come. With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect in 2018, companies of all sizes are going to be forced to ensure the data of their customers is kept secure, or run the risk of facing hefty fines of 4% of global turnover or €20m for serious breaches of the new regulations.

“Privacy is a critical topic for most individuals including customers and employees. As a result privacy and security are business critical already and the higher level of fines in GDPR already mean it has the attention of most boards,” Jonathan Armstrong, compliance and technology lawyer at Cordery, told Infosecurity.

Armstrong believes these new laws will help ease some of the public fear surrounding privacy and give civilians more power than they have had in the past.

“Individuals have important new rights including a right to data portability – this means that if they have concerns about an organization they deal with they can switch much more easily. They also have new rights to know about security breaches and to find out more quickly (and now for free) about how their data is handled,” he added.

To conclude, it looks as though personal privacy is finally getting the attention it deserves in both business and across the public sphere. I believe it is a fundamental right and not something that should be discounted just because perfection isn’t possible, so the fact that it is now such a widely discussed topic can only be a good thing that will lead to better security in the future. People from all walks of life should be able to feel confident that their personal data is protected as well as it can be, with no corners cut and no stone left unturned to ensure it is.

After all, as Jim Killock sums up, "We are entitled to a private life and a digital life and we should challenge those who seek to undermine our rights.”

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