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Protecting Your Digital Footprint: A Guide to Privacy Regulations

— March 13, 2024

In an era where data privacy is increasingly under threat, staying informed and proactive is the key to safeguarding our digital footprints for generations to come.

Data privacy is a complicated topic that is becoming increasingly discussed. With a growing concern around digital footprints, it’s up to governments to impose safeguards for individual consumers concerning their personal data. 

Our digital footprint comprises personal information, interactions, and online behaviors with significant value to businesses, making them extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Protecting this digital footprint is a paramount concern for both individuals and organizations alike. Fortunately, while still in infancy, there are privacy regulations in place that serve as a crucial framework for safeguarding our digital identities and ensuring our personal data is protected and handled responsibly. Here are some key global regulations that set the standard for digital privacy. 

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

This privacy regulation is one of the few you might already be familiar with. GDPR is enforced by the European Union and is one of the most comprehensive privacy regulations on a global scale. Whenever a company, whether they are EU or US-based, processes the online data of an EU resident, the organization must abide by the GDPR. 

This law mandates clear consent for data processing, transparent privacy policies, and stringent security measures. The GDPR also gives individuals rights over their data, including the right to access and erase their personal data. Have you ever hopped onto a website and had to either accept or reject a website’s cookie collection? Well, what they’re asking is for the right to collect and access your data while on their website. 

Worldwide, GDPR is one of the toughest and most stringent privacy regulations, communicating the EU’s stance on a user’s right to privacy. 

California Consumer Privacy Act 

This regulation is one of the more recent ones on our list, and if you’re a California resident, you may have heard of this one too. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was enacted in 2018 and works to provide further protections and fill in the gaps of the GDPR for US residents. This law allows any California consumer access to the information a company has stored and any third parties that information has been sent to. Additionally, the law allows these consumers to sue companies for privacy violations, regardless of whether a breach occurred. 

However, the CCPA only applies to businesses that meet certain criteria, such as whether the company serves California residents and has at least $25 million in revenue, collects data on over 50,000 residents, or obtains half of the company’s revenue from the sale of the data they collect. 

As you can see, this law is quite complex. In some areas, its more complex and stringent than the EU’s GDPR, while in others, its more vague. Overall, it is a state-level regulation aimed at enhancing privacy rights and granting California residents rights over their personal data. 

Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)

Moving up north to Canada, we turn to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. This law applies to a federal level and governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by organizations in commercial activities. It applies to non-profits, private institutions, and even federal government agencies that collect, use, or disclose this information in their commercial activities. 

If you’re a Canadian citizen, you might have seen special privacy notices specifically for consumers who fall under this regulation, such as on the electronic document management system DocuSign. This law also dictates that organizations must obtain consent for data collection, use, and disclosure, and they must safeguard this personal information through advanced security measures. This is especially important for companies that work with sensitive data, such as those in the financial sector, like credit unions or financial advisors, for programs like pro-tax software, CRMs, and other software and systems they employ in their day-to-day work. 

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

Identifying Info in Medical Treatment May Encourage Racial Bias
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Many US residents have probably heard of HIPAA laws, which reserve your private health information (PHI) held by covered entities, like health insurance companies, hospitals, telehealth, and other fields that have access to this private information. What is less known is how this law relates to your digital privacy. HIPAA mandates safeguards for your PHI, including physical, technical, and administrative measures to ensure their confidentiality, integrity, and availability. In fact, HIPAA and its relation to our digital footprints are an increasingly discussed topic. 

While HIPAA laws were enacted in 1996, it’s clear that a lot has changed since then, including our increasing reliance on digital technologies. Because of this, ePHI (electronic protected health information) has been included as an addendum to the law. The security rule of HIPAA’s privacy rule complements it by setting standards for electronic systems and ensuring safeguards are set in place to ensure ePHI’s confidentiality and integrity. Anytime a breach occurs, HIPAA laws denote that affected individuals must be notified along with the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Other Regulations

While the regulations mentioned above primarily relate to commercial businesses and those operating in the healthcare sector, there are additional laws and regulations that work to further protect consumer privacy, especially for particular industries. 

For example, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act, requires financial institutions, including those involved in taxes such as tax accountants and software like TurboTax, to protect the privacy and security of their consumers’ personal financial information. Similarly, the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7216 imposes strict limitations on tax return preparation regarding the disclosure or use of tax return information. This means tax return preparers are prohibited from knowingly or recklessly disclosing tax return information for the purposes of anything other than tax preparation without the consumer’s consent. 

Additionally, many states other than California enact their own data privacy laws that apply to multiple sectors, from financial to healthcare and commercial businesses. These laws can dictate requirements for data breach notifications, consumer privacy rights, and data security standards. 

Digital footprints and regulations

As we navigate the complexities of the digital landscape, safeguarding our digital footprint is essential for maintaining privacy, security, and autonomy online. Privacy regulations provide a vital framework for protecting personal data and holding organizations accountable for their data practices. By understanding and adhering to these regulations, individuals can assert greater control over their digital identities and mitigate the risks associated with online activities. In an era where data privacy is increasingly under threat, staying informed and proactive is the key to safeguarding our digital footprints for generations to come.

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