Wednesday, January 23, 2008

IP address = personal information

Yesterday the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee discussed the idea of linking your IP address to personal information. This would effectively give legal protection to IP addresses.

Of course, businesses who collect this information are against it. The leader of the pack being Google, which logs massive amounts of data and where it comes from. Tracking IP addresses can help google crack down on click fraud or identify the geographical region of its customers and in many ways is crucial to the company.

Google’s Peter Fleischer was quoted to have said: "There is no black or white answer: sometimes an IP address can be considered as personal data and sometimes not; it depends on the context, and which personal information it reveals" (Link to PDF).

On the opposite side of the debate the Electronic Privacy Information Center argues that with the upcoming IP6 model of the internet, IP addresses are being more and more personal.

Another big supporter of this side of the debate is Germany’s Peter Scharr, who heads the EU’s Data Protection Working Group. He believes that an IP address has to be regarded as personal data in situations where it can be used to identify someone.

If this idea does gain traction in Europe, it's unlikely to prevent the collection of IP addresses, which are used for everything from busting child pornography suspects to finding file-swappers to blacklisting spam domains, but it would no doubt require databases of IP addresses to meet certain security and retention standards.

Do you think IP addresses personal information and as such, should be protected legally?

Nate Evans
The Krell Institute

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At 2:08 PM, Anonymous CK Dillon said...

Mr. Evans, thank you for a thought-provoking article. It's understandable why Mr. McCoy invited you to share your knowledge.

I am also a Blogger of Identity Theft Prevention who follows Michael McCoy's work in the field.

Re: Do you think IP addresses personal information and as such, should be protected legally?

I feel IP Addresses like any of our personal information should be protected, and much of the onus lies with the individual.

That being said, the individual, once he or she visits a site, bits of their information (footprint) are left behind, archived for years unless businesses like Google and others who followed suit, limit the exposure. (even 2 years is too long in my opinion)

Mr Fleisher's final comment in the article summarized the better answer to the question when he said, "Let's work together, industry, regulators, government leaders and privacy advocates, to develop a set of privacy principles that will work across the globe, ensuring solid privacy protections for Internet users everywhere."

Now if they'll only, like the Nike ad says, 'Just Do It.'

In my opinion that is the answer. Difficult as it may be to institute and enforce privacy protections, it would be a huge step in the right direction. Our privacy should be private.

However, methods of tracking down criminals have to evolve daily, i.e. child molesters for instance. Utilizing IP Address information is a natural progression in that evolution.

As for businesses there should be parameters in place that dictate whether they actually 'need' our personal identifiers, and then how they are limited in their use of the information. An example would be the selling of our information, IP Addresses, social security numbers, etc.

I don't necessarily want a company that I choose to do business with, capturing my private information, collecting my hard-earned money for their product and then selling my information, thereby profiting again from my brief visit to their site. They should have to get my permission prior to capturing the information.

That gives me the option of freely giving them my information or not doing business with them. Maybe that is the problem. The consumer would then have the power.

Didn't mean to get long-winded.

Keep up the good work.


At 8:45 AM, Blogger Nate Evans said...

Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your answer to the question and I like your point about "Just Do it." Action is needed!


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