Privacy Principles Depend on Context

It is an interesting exercise to Google the term “Privacy Principles” and review the different definitions of privacy and different lists of fundamental privacy principles established by various enterprises, organizations and government agencies.  While there are threads of commonality throughout these different lists, it is intriguing to see how different perspectives can emphasize different issues.

For example, at the Burton Group Catalyst Conference in July, Bob Blakley proposed the following list of privacy principles (further described in the white paper, “Privacy” by Ian Glazer and Bob Blakley, which is available by subscription):

  1. Accountability
  2. Transparency
  3. Meaningful choice
  4. Minimal collection and disclosure
  5. Constrained use
  6. Data quality and accuracy
  7. Validated access
  8. Security

In December, 2008, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance on how to conform with HIPAA privacy and security requirements. This guidance consists of the Nationwide Privacy and Security Framework for Electronic Exchange of Individually Identifiable Health Information, which also sets forth eight Privacy Principles:

  1. Individual Access. Individuals should be provided with a simple and timely means to access and obtain their individually identifiable health information in a readable form and format.

  2. Correction. Individuals should have a way to timely question the accuracy or integrity of their individually identifiable health information and to have erroneous information corrected or to have a dispute documented if their requests are denied.

  3. Openness and Transparency. There should be openness and transparency about policies, procedures, and technologies that directly affect individuals and/or their individually identifiable health information.

  4. Individual Choice. Individuals should be provided a reasonable opportunity and capability to make informed decisions about the collection, use, and disclosure of their individually identifiable health information.

  5. Collection, Use, and Disclosure Limitation. Individually identifiable health information should be collected, used, and/or disclosed only to the extent necessary to accomplish specified purposes and never to discriminate inappropriately.

  6. Data Quality and Integrity. Persons and entities should take reasonable steps to ensure that individually identifiable health information is complete, accurate, and up-to-date to the extent necessary for the person's or entity's intended purposes and has not been altered or destroyed in an unauthorized manner.

  7. Safeguards. Individually identifiable health information should be protected with reasonable administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to ensure its confidentiality, integrity, and availability and to prevent unauthorized or inappropriate access, use, or disclosure.

  8. Accountability. The Principles in the Framework should be implemented, and adherence assured, through appropriate monitoring and other means and methods should be in place to report and mitigate non-adherence and breaches.

You can see both similarities and differences in these lists. 

Ian and Bob observed in their report that privacy is highly dependent on the context in which it is applied:

Privacy is, fundamentally, contextual. Any question about privacy must be understood in the context of:

  • The starting assumptions and principles of the parties
  • The relationship between the parties
  • The interaction between the parties among which private information is shared
  • The domain (e.g., sector, nation, etc.) in which the parties are interacting
  • The societal norms to which the parties adhere

Minor variations in any one of these contextual aspects of the situation can lead to major differences in the
privacy practices that should be applied.

So, while on the surface one might expect that a standard set of privacy principles would apply in all cases, each enterprise, market or agency must view privacy from their own slightly different perspective, based on the context within which privacy principles are applied.  Normalized lists of privacy principles may provide a valuable foundation, but it is critical for each enterprise or organization seeking to implement an effective privacy program to establish their own list, depending on their context.

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Discovering Identity was founded on blogs.sun.com in May 2005 as a means of documenting my exploration of the field of Identity and Access Management. In February, 2010, I switched to hosting the blog at DiscoveringIdentity.com. In March 2012, I began posting Oracle-related information in both places.

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