What Is Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and How to Protect It 

25/07/2023by admin0Read: 6 minutes

PII Definition by Privacy Act 1988

The Australian Privacy Act 1988 defines Personal Identifiable Information as:

Information or an opinion regarding a named person, or a person who can be properly identified:

  1. If the information is true or false.
  2. If the data or opinion is or isn’t preserved in a physical form.

To allow enough flexibility to account for changes in information handling practises throughout time, the definition is technologically neutral. Additionally, it complies with international norms and precedents.

The Privacy Act does not specifically recognise personal information, although other pieces of legislation may. For instance, the Telecommunications (Interceptions and Access) Act of 1979 defines some telecommunications data as personal.

Personal information is not bound and can range from sensitive to publicly available information. It can also contain personal beliefs, business, or job activities. Note that inaccurate information will still be regarded as personal information.

Types of personal information

The phrase “personal information” refers to a wide variety of data.

Under the Privacy Act, a variety of information kinds are expressly identified as making up personal information. For instance, the following are all categories of personal data:

  1. Sensitive Information is defined as information or an opinion that, among other things, relates to an individual’s race or ethnicity, political or religious views, sexual orientation, or criminal history.
  2. Health information is also known as sensitive information.
  3. Credit Information
  4. Employee Record Information that is subject to exemptions.
  5. Tax File Number Information.

Who might seek User Information?

1) Scammers and Identity Thieves

A User’s personally identifiable information can be used by fraudsters and identity thieves to pose as them, open phoney accounts in their name, and do other actions that may have an impact on their present or the future. Theft from a user’s bank account or taking out a loan in their name are examples of fraud that can fall under this category.

2) Bullies and Doxers

On the internet, there can be those who wish to utilise user data for their own purposes. A “doxer” could give user names and address to others who wish to terrify or hurt them, while a bully might use a user email and password to pretend to be them and post hurtful or embarrassing stuff on their social media sites.

3) Social media companies, games, apps and shopping sites.

Many businesses gather user data to profit by either selling it to marketers or using it to target you with adverts that are more relevant to you. In most cases, your data is sold if the service is free.

Personal Information in Business

Since it is defined as a natural person, personal information is often not regarded as personal information under the Privacy Act. However, related data about a person’s employer or business might be considered personal information. The APPs will be applicable when personal and commercial information is combined.

PII in Employment and Business Contexts

Individually Identifiable Information (PII) is crucial in both professional and corporate settings. It comprises the gathering, use, and storage of personal information on people in a variety of professional contexts.

Handling PII Workplace

When it comes to Personal Identifiable Information (PII), both employers and workers in the workplace have duties that must be met.

  • Employee Responsibilities:

Employees are required to handle PII with the highest professionalism and care. This involves securing PII against unauthorised access and protecting it by according to established standards.

  • Employer Obligations:

Employers are in charge of putting data protection measures into place and making sure that pertinent laws and regulations are followed. Employees must receive the proper handling instruction and direction from them.

PII in Customer Relations

PII is often gathered and maintained in customer interactions to deliver personalised services and sustain efficient communication. Organisations, however, play a crucial part in protecting client PII.

Organisations should collect the PII of customers while considering the following:

Clearly state the goal and extent of data collecting.

  • Before obtaining and utilising consumers’ PII, get their explicit permission.
  • Put in place strong security measures to guard against data breaches and unauthorised access to client PII.

Thus, businesses may gain consumers’ trust and show a dedication to preserving their privacy by carefully observing these procedures.

How can Businesses Protect their PII?

Businesses must safeguard personally identifiable information (PII) in order to protect the security and privacy of their stakeholders, including clients, workers, and consumers. Data breaches, financial losses, legal repercussions, and reputational harm can all result from failing to protect PII.

Here are the critical actions companies may take to successfully safeguard PII.

1. Handling Requests for Information

Think twice before disclosing any private information. One should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Could the release of this information hurt UQ or others?
  • From whom is this information being sought?
  • Are we certain they are who they say they are?
  • Do they have permission to access this information?
  • Who is in charge of the required information?

Verify that the requester is approved and has a legitimate need for the information. Use the information stored by UQ to verify a person’s identification if you have any doubts about their claim to be who they say they are. Consult your supervisor if you are unsure.

Send the request to the proper person or organisational unit if you are not responsible for the required information.

The Right to Information and Privacy Office should be contacted whenever someone makes an unauthorised request for information that is not readily available to the public. Report the request if you believe it to be a fraud.

2. Reporting Information Breaches

Many data leaks are unintentional. Typical reasons for breaches include:

  • revealing private information without permission or sending it to the incorrect person
  • misplacing documents or storage devices
  • not sending bulk emails with the ‘BCC’ option enabled to disguise recipients’ email addresses.

Report the occurrence as soon as you believe you may have mistakenly disclosed or lost information. The sooner information breaches are discovered, the greater the chance we have of minimising their potential effects.

3. Data Classification:

Recognise and categorise any PII-containing data held by the organisation. Sort the data according to access needs and sensitivity. This categorisation aids in prioritising security precautions for various categories of PII.

4.  Data Minimisation:

Only gather and keep the PII that is essential for business needs. To lessen the possible effects of a data leak, avoid keeping superfluous or pointless personal information.

5. Strong Access Controls:

To limit access to PII, use strong access restrictions. Make sure that only authorised staff has access to critical information, and for an additional layer of protection, utilise multi-factor authentication.

6. Encryption:

Both in transit and at rest, PII should be encrypted. Even if unauthorised people get to access the data, encryption scrambles it so that they cannot read it.

7. Regular Data Auditing:

Conduct routine audits to keep an eye on PII access and usage. Through auditing, potential risks may be quickly reduced by spotting any unauthorised or suspected activity, enhancing the protection of data.

8. Employee Training:

Inform and teach staff on the value of protecting personally identifiable information (PII). Employees need to be aware of the dangers of handling personally identifiable information improperly and understand their roles in its protection.

9. Secure Data Storage:

Employ safe data storage techniques, such as encrypted databases and secure cloud storage services. To ward off vulnerabilities, update software and security updates often.

10. Data Retention Policies:

Create and implement data retention policies that specify how long PII will be kept on file and when it should be safely removed when no longer needed.

11. Incident Response Plan:

To efficiently address data breaches and security issues, create a thorough incident response strategy, comprising procedures for containment, investigation, communication, and recovery.

12. Vendor Management:

Verify that any third-party providers who handle PII have appropriate security measures in place. To reduce threats, use due vigilance and check their security procedures often.

13. Privacy by Design:

Include privacy issues while creating new systems, services, and products. Put in place privacy protections up front rather than after the fact.

14. Compliance with Regulations:

Keep up with local and industry-specific legislation and regulations pertaining to data protection. Make sure your data protection procedures abide by the Privacy Act of 1984.

15. Regular Security Training and Testing:

Provide staff with frequent security awareness training to keep them informed of new risks and best practices. Additionally, run frequent penetration tests and vulnerability scans to find and fix any possible security infrastructure flaws.

In addition to being required by law and morality, protecting PII is essential for preserving consumer confidence and brand reputation.

To remain ahead of changing cybersecurity risks, keep in mind that data protection is a continual process that needs constant awareness and adaptability.

Best Cyber Security Practices for PII

The best guidelines for protecting sensitive data are those outlined in regulatory governance compliance standards. These guidelines don’t offer a comprehensive set of tactics for all organisational systems, but they are a great place to start when developing cybersecurity policies and regulating the usage of data. Based on a particular organization’s list of requirements, several cybersecurity solutions might be taken into consideration.

For instance, HIPAA and PCI-DSS may mandate that businesses transport sensitive data via SSL/TLS (HTTPS). Any sensitive data in the database would therefore need to be encrypted by the organisation. The plans for internal access, backups, archives, and who within the company may view PII must still be established. Users should be compelled to utilise VPN and multifactor authentication (MFA) if they access PII remotely.

For credential theft, phishing and social engineering tactics are typical. The risks of social engineering and phishing should be made clear to employees, and they should be taught how to spot attacks and report them. Employee education should include general instruction on the legal principles that govern the handling of data and the individuals who have access to it. Phishing may be stopped using a number of other cybersecurity tools, including email filters, DMARC, SPF, and DNS-based content blocks.

Regular reviews of cybersecurity plans are required, at least once a year, however, some businesses prefer to examine them more often. Lessons learnt from one stage of incident response, which only occurs after a data breach has already occurred but nevertheless aids in identifying problems with tactics. IT personnel will become more aware of gaps in present defences if cybersecurity plans and infrastructure are routinely reviewed.

PHI, PII, PFI, and electronic PHI (ePHI) are examples of digital data types that need to be both physically and digitally secured. The first stage is to determine all the ways the business obtains data, then determine the legal requirements that govern how data is handled, and then implement strategies that adhere to all rules.

For more information, stay tuned to the Anitech website.


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