Ask the Expert: What Is Data Privacy and Why Is It Important?

Ask the Expert: What Is Data Privacy and Why Is It Important?

In this Kindred Spotlight feature, data privacy lawyer and expert Jay Ward, explains the importance of data privacy, how to keep your information secure, and what inspires him about the Kindred COVID community. 

What inspires you about the Kindred COVID community?

The team.  The folks behind Kindred get privacy and care about better outcomes for their communities. That's such a rare combination.  I am so happy to see this project thriving.

What’s the difference between privacy and data security? 

Great question. These two terms are confused (intentionally or not) all the time.  Data security is the protection applied to information to keep it accessible to only authorized people.

Privacy is much broader (and sometimes its facets contradict one another). For our purposes, privacy is the constellation of rights around your ability to control who knows you and what they know.

Why is data privacy important? 

Our lives run on data—from the things we buy to the news we read.  Those data create a visible trail, a documentary about our lives and who we are.  

We become more vulnerable whenever we make ourselves visible to another person, which can be great. Visibility and vulnerability are the cornerstones of every healthy human relationship.  But that’s also why it’s important to decide how and when we're visible and to whom. 

What different approaches do the United States and Europe have to privacy law? 

In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) protects the rights of Europeans from the unwanted snooping of companies and controls how their data are used (sort of). Notably, privacy is a human right under European law, which makes a difference.   

In America, privacy law is mostly confined to limited sectors like:

  • Health: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) 
  • Banking: the Gramm-Leach- Bliley Act (GLBA)
  • Children's activity online: the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

There are no general privacy data rights in the United States, with some notable exceptions. But at root, the legal regimes aren't all that different.  

Privacy is largely a matter of consumer protection law: You're protected against companies lying to you or misusing your data.  

What’s the biggest threat to data privacy?

The desire for immediate information about any person and at any time has two leading players: businesses and government.  Businesses want to exploit personal data for profit, and governments want to exploit personal data for a much wider range of reasons.  

The job of privacy advocates is to find ways to cabin and control that impulse in both the private and public sectors.

Is your information on the internet secure? 

In general?  No. The internet is full of personal data; the more you use it, the more your information is shared.  However, the internet becomes much safer if you share your data with trusted partners and are careful about everything else.  

Think of your privacy the way you think about a personal story.  If you don't want everyone to know about it, you'll be careful about how you share it.  It's the same with personal data.

What’s the main purpose of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act law? How does it affect me?

HIPAA is a federal law that protects personal data about getting or paying for medical treatment.  It keeps your treatment history and how you paid for it securely and nothing else.  

You'll sometimes hear people say, "You can't make me wear a mask, that violates HIPAA," but those comments are often far from the mark.  HIPAA is good for what it does, but it’s limited.

How did you get started in data privacy? Tell us about the journey to where you are now in your career. 

I came the long way round.  I began my career as a litigator in the courtroom, trying cases.  As I progressed, I began to see more and more how the major decisions and controversies came down to data.  Whether it was mortgage-backed securities or the smartphone wars, data drove the decisions that created the lawsuits and increasingly drove their outcomes.  

As I thought about what data meant to individuals, I became captivated by the idea of privacy as something more than a catchphrase and wanted to help clients make privacy a key part of their offering.  I've been doing it for about five years exclusively, and I couldn't be happier.

What’s your favorite part about the work you do? 

The best part of being a lawyer has always been learning about new things and trying to apply lessons learned in other contexts.  Becoming a privacy lawyer has meant that I learn about each client's approach to data, their integration of data into their product, and concerns about their users.  It’s an amazing array of things to learn about, and I never get tired of it.

Read more about Jay here


Kindred Contributor

Kindred Contributor

If you're interested in sharing your story or experiences with the Kindred community reach out to the Content and Community Manager at Talia@hugo.health.

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