Today most of us are seriously concerned about our security. We invest in expensive home defense systems, take personal defense classes, prepare ourselves and our homes for situations where we may not have electricity, food or water. We may fear civil unrest where law and order break down and we are left at the mercy of looting, unruly mobs.
However, often we pay less attention to protecting our privacy and confidentiality. Since we live in a connected world, we knowingly/unknowingly share a wealth of information with people who could use them for nefarious purposes.
Stalking, identity theft, fraud, financial theft, sexual crimes and much more can result from not securing yourself and your family’s privacy.
What Is Privacy?
The concept of privacy was expounded as far back as during the time of Aristotle. It is considered a fundamental right by many but not really enshrined in the constitutions of many countries. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution defines it as “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures …. but upon probable cause.”
In Australia, the 1998 Privacy Act regulates the handling of personal information about individuals or an opinion about an identifiable individual.
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 defines it as “the right to respect for your family and private life, your home and your correspondence..”
The right to privacy refers to the right by individuals, groups or business entities to:
- be left alone
- to take steps to protect information that they consider private and confidential
- protect personal information from public scrutiny
- protects against misrepresentation
- prevents the creation of certain types of knowledge/information based on incidents taken out of context
- safeguards information regarding private acts between individuals
- safeguards against dissemination of information not relevant to the issue at hand
These rights are available in various forms and degrees in most countries subject to different restrictions.
Protecting Your Privacy
- Confidential Matters: Whatever you discuss in private with your doctor, psychiatrist/psychologist, health-care provider, lawyer etc are considered private. There are laws to protect such information from being made public, national standards to protect medical records and personal health information. However, information can be disclosed to certain agencies in case of crime, danger to the patient/self/public, domestic violence, child-abuse, etc. People with disabilities/lowered capacities etc may have lesser rights. Court-orders can by-pass the right to privacy and confidentiality. Read contracts carefully and discuss the issue thoroughly with your health-care services provider or lawyer before you share information.
- On-line Privacy: Social media platforms provide a wealth of information – keep them as bare as possible. Lock down your hardware and keep it password-protected. Avoid using common configurations like birthdays, dog’s name, consecutive numbers etc for passwords. Manage your Facebook, Instagram and other social media settings so that you plug information leaks. Change your passwords often and don’t share them with anyone, no matter how close you are. Check links before you click. Avoid logging-in at netbanking sites, clicking on links in your inbox. Don’t respond to calls from banks – call them back instead. Tweak your Google settings to maintain privacy and set up an alert for your name.
- Shred Documents: You have to destroy these five types of documents – any that contain your social security number, birth-date, credit-card number, medical insurance numbers and account numbers from financial institutions.
- ID-Theft : After-death ID-theft is common. Studies show that nearly 2.5 million estates of deceased are affected by ID-theft annually. Cancel driver’s licenses, notifying credit-card agencies/banks/financial institutions, insurers etc. Protect your kids so that by the time they’re of college-going-age, there are no financial problems due to ID-theft. Check on them when they’re on-line to protect them from child-abuse, porn and stalkers.
- Devices: Baby-monitors, wifi-cams, smart TVs, home-automation/security systems, smart-phones etc are potential risks as far as privacy is concerned. Fix the web-cam on your computers to avoid creeps setting them up without your knowledge. Fitness-trackers and running-watches can reveal a wealth of information. Keep wireless-settings turned off
- White Lies: If you’re asked to divulge personal information at retail outlets, keep it as fake as possible. Your birthday, where you live, work, studied, hometown, mother’s maiden name etc are all facts that can be used by potential criminals.
Protecting yourself/your loved ones is not only about physical safety. Ensure that your privacy and confidentiality are safe and secure, out of reach of unscrupulous criminals.
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