Data Privacy Day - An Introduction

Data Privacy Day (DPD) is an annual commemoration of the January 28, 1981, signing of Convention 108, the first legally binding international treaty dealing with privacy and data protection.  It began in Europe in 2007, where it is called Data Protection Day, and it came to the U.S. and Canada the following year, in an effort by the National Cyber Security Alliance to raise awareness and education about the protection of privacy and data.  Protected Trust observes Data Privacy Day because we take the security and privacy of your data very seriously.  We invite you to join us in spreading this message of awareness and education.

U.S. Privacy - A Brief History

Our nation has a long history with privacy in all of its varied forms.  As early as the 1600s, colonies began building what we would now called databases, which were public records containing information about births, marriages, deaths, and wills.  Mistrust of the government grew in the 1700s as people learned that their mail was often opened before it was delivered, which led Congress to enforce postal confidentiality.  However, that mistrust also led to skepticism of the constitutionally-mandated census that was to occur every decade, beginning in 1790.  One year later, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed as part of the Bill of Rights, prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, and thereby affirming that citizens have a defensible right of privacy in their persons and property.  In the 1800s, newspapers began printing gossip about celebrities under protection of the First Amendment, and communications technology emerged that would forever change the world, including the telegraph, telephone, moving pictures, and the Kodak camera.

But it was before the turn of the next century, on December 15, 1890, when a watershed event in the history of U.S. privacy occurred.  On that day, the Harvard Law Review published “The Right to Privacy” by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, which they began with these now famous and influential words, “That the individual shall have full protection in person and in property is a principle as old as the common law; but it has been found necessary from time to time to define anew the exact nature and extent of such protection.”  Twenty-six years later, the latter and primary author of that seminal work became an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.  In 1928, Justice Brandeis wrote a critical dissenting opinion regarding the privacy of telephone conversations, in which he defined the "right to be let alone" as "the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men."  It took 39 years for his successors to realize the brilliance of this pioneering figure in privacy history and overturn that case.

In the first half of the 20th century, the new Federal Communications Act prohibited interception of communications, Social Security numbers became lifelong unique identifiers, and the onset of the Cold War led to widespread government surveillance of, and data gathering about, citizens due to widespread fear of Communist infiltration.

In the latter half of the century, computers emerged and spread rapidly from the government, universities and large corporation into small businesses and homes, creating a communications infrastructure that was ripe for the Internet.  Although not U.S.-specific, and less about privacy than about the impact of technology on privacy, it is here that another watershed event occurred.  In the 1980s, a contractor named Tim Berners-Lee, while working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, created the World Wide Web, and made it freely available, with no patents or royalties.  It went live in August of 1991 and forever changed how the world views and stores information.

Today, less than 15 years into the 21st century, the Web is a ubiquitous part of American life, with 80% of the U.S. population using it daily.  We can access it from nearly everywhere and at nearly any time; not only from our computers, but also from our televisions, telephones, vehicles and even our wristwatches.  We use it to provide, receive, store, search, display, and share data of all kinds—including data most people consider and want to be private, such as health and financial data.  With the proliferation of so much private data, people want and need assurances that their data is safe from predators who would misuse it.

The most important step toward achieving that goal is to make yourself aware and educated about data privacy—and that is what Data Privacy Day is all about.

Privacy Resources

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