Data security and privacy issues aren’t going away any time soon. Conversely, they’re constantly growing due to increased awareness of cybercrime and risks related to personal data. “In 2017, at least 42 U.S. states introduced 240 bills and resolutions related to cybersecurity, more than double the number the year before” — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But what direction are those bills and resolutions taking the US?
In 1979, a US Supreme Court case determined that when an individual willingly gives out their personal information (in the scenario used, a phone number), they relinquish their rights to control that data. However, in this new era of digital information, “third parties hold an exponentially larger amount of personal information relating to their users, from search engine data to geo-locating functions in smart phones or connected cars.”
Not only has the quantity of data changed since the ruling, it’s also changed qualitatively. What is now given, or arguably taken, may be of a much more personal nature than a phone number by the telephone company or bank (the companies discussed in the case) — not to mention the proliferation of the various industries accumulating and using or selling this information. Factor into that the increase in data breaches, cybercrime, and individual awareness, and we are facing a very different issue today. The resulting push toward pro-privacy is then not so surprising.
Perhaps the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which left many companies scurrying to prepare for its pro privacy changes, inspired other groups in the US to reframe and reclaim personal data rights. Or perhaps it is only due to the constantly increasing numbers of breaches and pervasiveness of cybercrime — because when financial institutions, state governments, energy grids, election campaigns, sports teams, and even Olympic athlete’s health records are being targeted, who can be trusted to keep data about you safe?
A study in 2016 by the Pew Research Center showed that Americans “fear they have lost control of their personal information and many worry whether government agencies and major corporations can protect the customer data they collect.” This isn’t surprising as 64% of Americans “have personally experienced a major data breach,” (ibid) from fraudulent credit card charges, notice that sensitive information or their social security number has been compromised, to someone taking out a loan in their names or taking over control of their social media accounts.
“Technological innovation has outpaced our privacy protections. As a result, our digital footprint can be tracked by the government and corporations in ways that were once unthinkable.”
Currently, America’s approach to cyber security is a patch work of various laws across various state governments or nationally over only limited sectors, which often results in “overlapping and contradictory protections.” Facing the fact that this will grow more complicated as states file increasingly more and different cyber legislation, some companies are now stepping forward and addressing the issue at the national level.
That 1979 Supreme Court case —which ruled individuals relinquished control of their data when it was shared— was revisited this year and a new ruling was released this summer stating that “the Fourth Amendment must keep pace with technology.” It seems, whatever the cause, the pro privacy trend has arrived in the US. Only future rulings and laws can show us how long that trend will last.