PRIVACY + SECURITY BLOG

News, Developments, and Insights

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What Is Privacy?

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By Daniel J. Solove

What is privacy? This is a central question to answer, because a conception of privacy underpins every attempt to address it and protect it.  Every court that holds that something is or isn’t privacy is basing its decision on a conception of privacy — often unstated.  Privacy laws are also based on a conception of privacy, which informs what things the laws protect.  Decisions involving privacy by design also involve a conception of privacy.  When privacy is “baked into” products and services, there must be some understanding of what is being baked in.

Far too often, conceptions of privacy are too narrow, focusing on keeping secrets or avoiding disclosure of personal data.  Privacy is much more than these things.  Overly narrow conceptions of privacy lead to courts concluding that there is no privacy violation when something doesn’t fit the narrow conception.   Narrow or incomplete conceptions of privacy lead to laws that fail to address key problems.  Privacy by design can involve throwing in a few things and calling it “privacy,” but this is like cooking a dish that requires 20 ingredients but only including 5 of them.

It is thus imperative to think through what privacy is.  If you have an overly narrow or incomplete conception of privacy, you’re not going to be able to effectively identify privacy risks or protect privacy.

In my work, I have attempted to develop a practical and useable conception of privacy.  In what follows, I will briefly describe what I have developed.

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The OPM Data Breach: Harm Without End?

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By Daniel J. Solove

The recent breach of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) network involved personal data on millions of federal employees, including data related to background checks. OPM is now offering 18 months of free credit monitoring and identity theft insurance to victims. But as experts note in a recent Washington Post article, this is not nearly enough:

If the data is in the hands of traditional cyber criminals, the 18-month window of protection may not be enough to protect workers from harm down the line. “The data is sold off, and it could be a while before it’s used,” said Michael Sussmann, a partner in the privacy and data security practice at law firm Perkins Coie. “There’s often a very big delay before having a loss.”

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Green Eggs and Ham: How Not to Market and Invade Privacy

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By Daniel J. Solove

Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham is a timeless classic that is read to millions of children. At first the simple rhymes and cute drawings are alluring. But parents will soon discover the book’s terrifying equation: The tiresome repetition of the book multiplied by the number of times a child will want the book read. The result is mind-numbing and will make parents curse the day they decided to make the book part of their child’s library.

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The Sony Data Breach: 3 Painful Lessons

 

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by Daniel J. Solove

The Sony data breach is an exclamation mark on a year that is already known as the” Year of the Data Breach.” This data breach is the kind that makes even the least squeamish avert their eyes and wince. There are at least three things that this breach can teach us:

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How Should the Law Handle Privacy and Data Security Harms?

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by Daniel J. Solove

In three earlier posts, I’ve been exploring the nature of privacy and data security harms.

In the first post, Privacy and Data Security Violations: What’s The Harm?, I explored how the law often fails to recognize harm for privacy violations and data breaches.

In the second post, Why the Law Often Doesn’t Recognize Privacy and Data Security Harms, I examined why the law has struggled in recognizing harm for privacy violations and data breaches.

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