The internet has truly revolutionized the way that we look at information. From medical records to credit records to criminal records, we instantly have – at our fingertips – information that would’ve taken days of legwork to gather, allowing us to make better, faster, more informed decision about the services we use, the things that we buy, and the overall choices that we make in life. While this is an absolute benefit for everyone, there is, unfortunately, one major drawback in all of this available knowledge, namely, whom it is available to. This struggle to have and, yet, restrict access to information is what provides today’s term, data privacy.
As has been discussed previously, like many other technological terms, data privacy compounds 2 separate words in order to identify a specific modern idea. First, of course, is the item of information – data – which comes from the Latin datum, meaning ‘a thing given’, and was first used by Scotland’s Thomas Urquhart in his mathematical treatise Trissotatras (“The vertical angles, according to the diversity of the three cases being by the aforesaid Datas thus obtained.”) in 1645. Second is privacy, which comes from the Latin privatus, meaning ‘to set apart’, and was first used in The Burgh Court Book of Selkirk (1534) (“That he receive never the bell cross..neither in privacy nor part.”). Still, though the availability and accessibility of data has greatly increased, the concept behind data privacy is practically ancient – a commercially valuable recipe for pottery glaze from 1500 BC Mesopotamia that was preserved on a clay tablet used a form of encryption.
Originally thought of as being under the umbrella concept of data security, a term first used in a heading reading, “Processing and data security controls” in a 1961 issue of The Accounting Review, data privacy has more than shown itself to be a separate and vital aspect of overall data management. Considering that, over the last decade, data leaks have risen from incidents affecting hundreds of thousands of accounts to modern leaks of data from the likes of Equifax, Yahoo, and Facebook which affect hundreds of millions of accounts, data privacy is more important than ever before. In an attempt to combat this, as of 25 May 2018 the EU is set to implement The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which attempts to hold companies that deal with (EU) user information to a unified higher standard, with more information considered “private” and new directives of how data is stored, collected, and transferred; however, there are still no guarantees that this will impact data theft. The openness and availability of information online may just be a modern, digital version of the classic Pandora’s box.