What, if any, laws do you think the United States should pass to protect personal information? Why? Should some personal information be more protected than other information? Why?

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In an age with breaches of major companies resulting in the unauthorized release of personal information occurring daily, consideration should be given to protect personal information. The problem is that a law cannot protect the personal information that most people freely provide to social media companies, credit reporting agencies, and others with little or no forethought to how the information will be used. Laws that penalize companies with significant fines (e.g., Facebook's recent 5 billion dollar fine by the FTC) do little to deter hackers. Further, a fine is a relatively small penalty for companies earning billions of dollars and does little to prevent consumers from being nonchalant about giving away their personal information.

Think about your average day. If you are like most people, at some point you check your e-mail, use the internet, update your financial accounts, place a retail order, and possibly look at social media. If you eat out, you use a debit or credit card. While driving, you pass through numerous cameras and various other surveillance equipment. Your car may be able to track your driving habits, while your phone continually updates your position in relation to the nearest cell tower. If you make a call, your phone carrier keeps a record of it and it can easily be converted into a history of time, place, location, and who you called. GPS in your car, phone, or other device can pinpoint your location within a few feet. Your employer during the day follows what you do on company computers. Maybe you went on a government website today to pay taxes or to order car tags. You probably don’t think much about how many times you are asked to produce a government-issued identification like your driver's license, passport, or social security number in a day. When you arrive home, if you have smart gadgets, everything from security companies to the entertainment on your smart tv or video games immediately begin to update your electronic activity. Even your fitness watch collects data on you. Where does all of this data go?

So what makes anyone believe additional privacy protection laws are in any way going to protect personal information? No doubt privacy laws need a serious update reflecting the modern reality that we are being virtually surveilled 24/7. Given that it takes very little personal information to be compromised or for a person to steal your identity, all personal data should have equal weight for protection. However, laws cannot protect a person’s private information if we don’t take responsibility to keep it private.

Of course, this is not to suggest that everyone goes off the grid. I am merely proposing that laws only penalize the person or company caught, tried, and convicted. Meanwhile, the consumer may be irreparably damaged by the release of private data, and to that end, any legal reparations fall short of the cost of the damage done to a person. The only real protection for privacy is not to be cavalier in how a person gives private data away.

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According to ARMA International, a professional organization for information governance workers, business and government officials have to follow increasingly complex rules to keep the data of their customers and clients safe. Personal data is compromised at alarmingly high rates. For example, according to the ARMA 2008 report "Requirements for Personal Information Protection, Part 1: U.S. Federal Law," more than 79 million records were compromised in 2007 (Identity Theft Resource Center). This report states that the "most overused" personal information is people's Social Security Number. Federal laws such as the 1974 Privacy Act state that privacy is a personal and fundamental right given in the Constitution, so this is incredibly problematic.

Given the high rate at which personal information is compromised and citizens' rights to privacy, the United States should pass additional laws to protect personal information. For example, employers or entities granting loans can access private information in credit reports. In addition, while the federal government grants citizens a right to privacy, states, with the exception of California, do not grant citizens the same rights. Therefore, state laws need to recognize an individual's right to privacy. 

Personal information related to one's health deserves particular protection because, if someone has damaging health information, it can be used against them in prejudicial ways, such as in employment, housing, loans, or education decisions. While The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) passed in 1996, this law does not always protect people's personal health information because people have to access this information with identifiers such as their Social Security Numbers. Therefore, people's health information is stored alongside other personal information. At the very least, patients should be given a new identifier to access their health information, and this data should not be stored with one's Social Security Number.

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