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Christopher Burgess Headshot

Data Privacy Day - Version 2013

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As we arrive at the conclusion of another Data Privacy Month, and turn to celebrate Data Privacy Day, Jan. 28, I can say with a great deal of certainty, we should not be celebrating. Our privacy was collectively hosed in 2012.

The past year has seen medical establishments one after the other compromise their patient's personal health information (PHI); we witnessed our states losing their constituent's data right and left; and lastly we just give our information away to the plethora of social network sites and online retailers. Does the phrase, "need to know" or "do not track" resonate with you?

And while our fire hose of data is our life's blood connection to the internet, we seem to forget that sharing that vast body of information is an all-in and no-return proposition. We now have advanced such that the internet is no longer a luxury, it is and will be the avenue of connectivity which we have come to rely upon. Is there one amongst us who hasn't been compelled by a vendor, governmental entity or friend/family to get online. Make no mistake in order to make purchases, extract benefits and to remain competitive -- and do we have a clue on how to protect our personal data.

Then, as we learned via recent testimony before Congress from Google, the U.S. government entities are regularly requesting access to individual subscriber's Google accounts. Google's Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security Richard Salgado said that "our view is that the statute [the Electronic Communications Privacy Actor ECPA] is out of compliance with the Fourth Amendment because the government can call for the production of your data without a search warrant."

Google released their Transparency Report for the period from July through December 2012 and it says,

• 68 percent of the requests Google received from government entities in the U.S. were through subpoenas. These are requests for user-identifying information, issued under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act ("ECPA"), and are the easiest to get because they typically don't involve judges.
• 22 percent were through ECPA search warrants. These are, generally speaking, orders issued by judges under ECPA, based on a demonstration of "probable cause" to believe that certain information related to a crime is presently in the place to be searched.
• The remaining 10 percent were mostly court orders issued under ECPA by judges or other processes that are difficult to categorize.

This is important as Google-plus (G+) is now the second most popular social network in the world with 343 million active users. Facebook retains its preeminent position that of the most populated social network, with ~902 million active users.

And Facebook, the most popular social network, is about to open up Facebook Graph Search, which has the potential to be one of the most invasive tools to their subscribers' privacy. Facebook creates the ability to set your privacy settings (seemingly an ever present moving target) and the user (that would be you and I) are responsible for adjusting them appropriately. So don't delay, do it.

In sum, 2012 was abysmal from a privacy perspective, and 2013 is off to a raucous start. At no time has it been clearer, you the user need to study the privacy settings on every online environment you are active and adjust them to your personal threshold for sharing. Pay attention to the minutia and details. Good luck at keeping what you wish private, private in 2013

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