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What Is Considered Private Information?

Private Information
March 03, 2015

Yesterday's article warned of the risks of conducting business in a digital world and encouraged captives to engage a cyberaudit or other data security services to determine the vulnerability of and protect their information against malicious forces.

But what, exactly, is that information? Certainly trade secrets, business strategies, and confidential communication are critical to each company’s continued operations. But those are not necessarily protected by law as is personal and private information about individuals.

However, there is still a debate over what information is ours and is private and what information belongs to everyone else and is public. This debate will likely continue for some time without a clear winner.

Insurers and captives may be familiar with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 guidelines that protect an individual’s health-related information. The new privacy laws, which vary by state and country, are similar to those standards to a degree. A person’s name is protected private information only when it is combined with other information, such as a Social Security number, a driver’s license number, and/or banking or credit card account numbers. Information such as height, weight, residential address, consumer preferences, or purchasing history are typically not protected information and thus may not require notification in case of a breach.

One simple remedy to the security required and inherent liability associated with private personal information is to just not collect it. For instance, captives maintain claims databases full of information on claimants and accident victims. Is it really necessary to collect Social Security information or driver’s license numbers? Omitting that information from a captive’s database might very well save a huge amount of time and money should a breach occur. There may be cases where it is necessary to collect private personal information, but it also may be possible to adapt to modern times and use alternative yet sufficient business practices.

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