What Is Personally Identifiable Information (PII)?
Personally identifiable information (PII) is information that, when used alone or with other relevant data, can identify an individual.
PIImay contain direct identifiers (e.g., passport information) that can identify a person uniquely, or quasi-identifiers (e.g., race) that can be combined with other quasi-identifiers (e.g., date of birth) to successfully recognize an individual.
- Personally identifiable information (PII) uses data to confirm an individual's identity.
- Sensitive personally identifiable information can include your full name, Social Security Number, driver’s license, financial information, and medical records.
- Non-sensitive personally identifiable information is easily accessible from public sources and can include your zip code, race, gender, and date of birth.
- Passports contain personally identifiable information.
- Social media sites may be considered non-sensitive personally identifiable information.
Understanding Personally Identifiable Information
Advancing technology platforms have changed the way businesses operate, governments legislate,and individuals relate. With digital tools like cell phones, the Internet, e-commerce, and social media, there has been an explosion in the supply of all kinds of data.
Big data, as it is called, is being collected, analyzed, and processed by businesses and shared with other companies. The wealth of information provided by big data has enabled companies to gain insight into how to better interact with customers.
However, the emergence of big data has also increased the number of data breaches and cyberattacks by entities who realize the value of this information. As a result, concerns have been raised over how companies handle the sensitive information of their consumers. Regulatory bodies are seeking new laws to protect the data of consumers, while users are looking for more anonymous ways to stay digital.
Sensitive vs. Non-Sensitive Personally Identifiable Information
Personally identifiable information (PII) can be sensitive or non-sensitive. Sensitive personal information includes legal statistics such as:
- Full name
- Social Security Number (SSN)
- Driver’s license
- Mailing address
- Credit card information
- Passport information
- Financial information
- Medical records
The above list isby no meansexhaustive. Companies that share data about their clients normally use anonymization techniques to encrypt and obfuscate the PII, so it is received in a non-personally identifiable form. An insurance company that shares its clients’ information with a marketing company will mask the sensitive PII included in the data and leave only information related to the marketing company’s goal.
Non-sensitive or indirect PII is easily accessible from public sources like phonebooks, the Internet,and corporate directories. Examples of non-sensitive or indirect PII include:
- Zip code
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
The above list contains quasi-identifiers and examples of non-sensitive information that can be released to the public. This type of information cannot be used alone to determine an individual’s identity.
However, non-sensitive information, although not delicate, is linkable. This means that non-sensitive data, when used with other personal linkable information, can reveal the identity of an individual. De-anonymization and re-identification techniques tend to be successful when multiple sets of quasi-identifiers are pieced together and can be used to distinguish one person from another.
Regulating and safeguarding personally identifiable information (PII) will likely be a dominant issue for individuals, corporations, and governments in the years to come.
Safeguarding Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
Multiple data protection laws have been adopted by variouscountries to create guidelines for companies that gather, store, and share the personal information of clients. Some of the basic principles outlined by these laws state that some sensitive information should not be collected unless for extreme situations.
Also, regulatory guidelines stipulate that data should be deleted if no longer needed for its stated purpose, and personal information should not be shared with sources that cannot guarantee its protection.
Cybercriminals breach data systems to access PII, which is then sold to willing buyers in underground digital marketplaces. For example, in 2015, the IRS suffered a data breach leading to the theft of more thana hundred thousand taxpayers’ PII.
Using quasi-information stolen from multiple sources, the perpetrators were able to access an IRS website application by answering personal verification questions that should have been privy to the taxpayers only.
Safeguarding PII may not always be the sole responsibility of a service provider. In some cases, it may be shared with the individual.
How PII Is Stolen
Many thieves find PII of unsuspecting victims by digging through their trash for unopened mail. This can provide them with a person's name and address. In some cases, it can also reveal information about their employment, banking relationships, or even their social security numbers.
Nowadays, the Internet has become a major vector for identity theft. Phishing and social engineering attacks use a deceptive-looking website or email to trick someone into revealing key information, such as their name, bank account numbers, passwords, or social security number. It is also possible to steal this information through deceptive phone calls or SMS messages.
Tips on Protecting PII
While it is not possible to fully protect yourself, you can make yourself a smaller target by reducing the opportunities to steal your PII. Experian, one of the top three credit agencies, lists several steps that you can take to reduce your surface area.
For example, a locked mailbox or PO box makes it harder for thieves to steal your mail and removing personal identification from junk mail and other documents makes it harder for identity thieves to associate a name with an address. Also, avoid carrying more PII than you need—there's no reason to keep your social security card in your wallet.
Likewise, there are some steps you can take to prevent online identity theft. Data leaks are a major source of identity theft, so it is important to use a different, complex password for each online account. Always encrypt your important data, and use a password for each phone or device. It is also a good idea to reformat your hard drive whenever you sell or donate a computer.
Personally Identifiable Information Around the World
The definition of what comprises PII differs depending on where you live in the world. The following are the privacy regimes in specific jurisdictions:
In the United States, the government defined"personally identifiable" in 2020 as anything that can "be used to distinguish or tracean individual's identity" such as name, SSN, and biometrics information; either alone or with other identifiers such as date of birth or place of birth.
In theEuropean Union (EU), the definition expands to include quasi-identifiers as outlined in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that went into effect in May 2018.The GDPR is a legal framework that sets rules for collecting and processing personal information for those residing in the EU.
Personal information is protected by the Privacy Act 1988. This law regulates the collection, storage, use, and disclosure of personal information, whether by the federal government or private entities. Later amendments regulate the use of healthcare identifiers and establish the obligations of entities that suffer from a data breach.
The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act regulates the use of personal information for commercial use. This is defined as information that on its own or combined with other data, can identify you as an individual.
Personally Identifiable Information vs. Personal Data
Personal data encompasses a broader range of contexts than PII. For instance, your IP address, device ID numbers, browser cookies, online aliases, or genetic data. Certain attributes such as religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or medical history may be classified as personal data but not personally identifiable information.
Example of Personally Identifiable Information
In early 2018, Facebook Inc. (META), now Meta, was embroiled in a major data breach. The profiles of 30 million Facebook users were collected without their consent by an outside company called Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica got its data from Facebook through a researcher who worked at the University of Cambridge. The researcher built a Facebook app that was a personality quiz. An app is a software application used on mobile devices and websites.
The app was designed to take the information from those who volunteered to give access to their data for the quiz. Unfortunately, the app collected not only the quiz takers' data but, because of a loophole in Facebook's system, was able also to collect data from the friends and family members of the quiz takers.
As a result, over 50 million Facebook users had their data exposed to Cambridge Analytica without their consent.Although Facebook banned the sale of their data, Cambridge Analytica turned around and sold the data to be used for political consulting. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, released a statement within the company's Q1-2019 earnings release:
We are focused on building out our privacy-focused vision for the future of social networking and working collaboratively to address important issues around the Internet.
The data breach not only affected Facebook users but investors as well. Facebook's profits decreased by 50% in Q1-2019 versus the same period a year earlier. The company accrued $3 billion in legal expenses and would have had an earnings per share of $1.04 higher without the expenses, stating:
We estimate that the range of loss in this matter is $3.0 billion to $5.0 billion. The matter remains unresolved, and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome.
The following day, on April 25, 2019, Meta announced it was banning personality quizzes from its platform.
Companies will undoubtedly invest in ways to harvest data, such as personally identifiable information (PII), to offer products to consumers and maximize profits. Still, they will be met with more stringent regulations in the years to come.
What Qualifies as PII?
Personally identifiable information is defined by the U.S. government as:
“Information which can be used todistinguish or trace an individual’s identity, such as theirname, social security number, biometric records, etc.alone,or whencombined with other personal or identifying informationwhich islinked or linkable toa specific individual, such as date and place of birth, mother’s maiden name, etc.”
What Is Not PII?
Personal data is not classified as PII and non-personal data such as the company you work for, shared data, or anonymized data.
What Is a PII Violation?
PII violations are illegal, and often involve frauds such as identity theft. Violations may also stem from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of PII. Failure to report a PII breach can also be a violation.
What Must You Do When Emailing PII?
Because email is not always secure, try to avoid emailing PII. If you must, use encryption or secure verification techniques.
What Laws Protect PII?
Various federal and state consumer protection laws protect PII and sanction its unauthorized use; for instance, the Federal Trade Commission Actand the Privacy Act of 1974.
The Bottom Line
Personal Identifying Information (PII) is any type of data that can be used to identify someone, from their name and address to their phone number, passport information, and social security numbers. This information is frequently a target for identity thieves, especially over the Internet. For that reason, it is essential for companies and government agencies to keep their databases secure.
Personally identifiable information (PII) uses data to confirm an individual's identity. Sensitive personally identifiable information can include your full name, Social Security Number, driver's license, financial information, and medical records.What are some types of personally identifiable information or PII? ›
Further, PII is defined as information: (i) that directly identifies an individual (e.g., name, address, social security number or other identifying number or code, telephone number, email address, etc.) or (ii) by which an agency intends to identify specific individuals in conjunction with other data elements, i.e., ...How many types of PII are there? ›
According to NIST, PII can be divided into two categories: linked and linkable information.What are the 3 types of personal information? ›
Below are the types of the types of personal information generally covered: Private information. Sensitive personal data information. Health information.What is not an example of PII? ›
PII, or personally identifiable information, is sensitive data that could be used to identify, contact, or locate an individual. What are some examples of non-PII? Info such as business phone numbers and race, religion, gender, workplace, and job titles are typically not considered PII.What are some examples of PII quizlet? ›
Personally Identifiable information (PII) is any information about an individual maintained by an organization, including information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual's identity like name, social security number, date and place of birth, mother's maiden name, or biometric records.What are the four 4 specifications related to personally identifiable information PII? ›
Personal identification number: Social security number (SSN), passport number, driver's license number, taxpayer identification number, financial account numbers, bank account number or credit card number. IP addresses - Some jurisdictions even classify IP addresses as PII. Medical Records. Financial information.Which of the following is the best example of PII? ›
What Is the Best Example of Personally Identifiable Information? The most common types of PII are a person's full name, social security number, and date of birth.What is a list of personal identifiers? ›
Personal identification number: social security number (SSN), passport number, driver's license, state identification number, taxpayer identification number, patient identification number, financial account or credit/debit card.What are the 4 types of information? ›
- Factual. Factual information is information that solely deals with facts. ...
- Analytical. Analytical information is the interpretation of factual information. ...
- Subjective. Subjective information is information from only one point of view. ...
- Conceptual information. Conceptual information comes from ideas, theories, concepts, hypotheses and more. ...
- Procedural information. ...
- Policy information. ...
- Stimulatory information. ...
- Empirical information. ...
- Directive information.
Personal data may, for example, include information on name, address, e-mail address, personal identification number, registration number, photo, fingerprints, diagnostics, biological material, when it is possible to identify a person from the data or in combination with other data.What is the difference between PII and personal data? ›
PII is any information that can be used to identify a person. This could be a single piece of data or multiple pieces of data that when compiled, or seen together, can identify a person or distinguish one person from another. Personal information is any information relating to a person, directly or indirectly.Is your social security number an example of PII? ›
PII includes but is not limited to: Person's name or initials (e.g., John Doe, John D, JD) Date of birth. Social Security Number (SSN)Which of the following are examples of personally identifiable information PII Hipaa? ›
- Credit card number.
- Driver's license.
- Medical records.
- Dates, except year.
- Telephone numbers.
- Geographic data.
- FAX numbers.
- Social Security numbers.
- Email addresses.
- Medical record numbers.
- An ordinary identifier is an uppercase letter followed by zero or more characters, each of which is an uppercase letter, a digit, or the underscore character. ...
- A delimited identifier is a sequence of one or more characters enclosed by double quotation marks.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau defines PII as information “that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual's identity.” That includes your name, address, Social Security number and birthday.What are the 7 types of information? ›
The seven types of information are factual, conceptual, procedural, emotional, behavioral, attitudinal, and motivational. In general, organizations should manage different types of information in a way that is consistent with their overall organizational goals and objectives.What are the five types of personal information? ›
an individual's name, signature, address, phone number or date of birth. sensitive information. credit information. employee record information.
Sources of information or evidence are often categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary material. These classifications are based on the originality of the material and the proximity of the source or origin.What are the 9 types of sources of information? ›
- Library Catalog.
- Accurate. Information that is correct.
- Precision. The level of detail information provides. ...
- Credibility. Information that comes from a reputable source.
- Timeliness. ...
- Completeness. ...
- Relevance. ...
- Uniqueness. ...
personal data processed wholly or partly by automated means (that is, information in electronic form); and. personal data processed in a non-automated manner which forms part of, or is intended to form part of, a 'filing system' (that is, manual information in a filing system).What are 3 data examples? ›
Data can come in the form of text, observations, figures, images, numbers, graphs, or symbols. For example, data might include individual prices, weights, addresses, ages, names, temperatures, dates, or distances.What are data give 5 examples? ›
- Number of females per 1000 males in various states of our country.
- Production of wheat in the last 10 years in our country.
- Number of plants in our locality.
- Rainfall in our city in the last 10 years.
- Marks obtained by students.
Personally identifiable information (PII) is any data that could potentially identify a specific individual. Any information that can be used to distinguish one person from another and can be used to deanonymize previously anonymous data is considered PII.What does PII mean in Hipaa? ›
As the name implies, personally identifiable information is any data that can identify a person. Certain information like full name, date of birth, address and biometric data are always considered PII.What is the definition of PII under Hipaa? ›
Personally identifiable information (PII) or individually identifiable health information (IIHI) is any health information that allows the patient to be identified.What is PII data used for? ›
PLI helps organizations predict the impact of product development decisions on key business performance metrics, like demand, cycle time, cost, quality, regulatory compliance, manufacturability and supply chain efficiency.
Personally Identifiable Information (PII), or personal data, is data that corresponds to a single person. PII might be a phone number, national ID number, email address, or any data that can be used, either on its own or with any other information, to contact, identify, or locate a person.What are the two types of personal data? ›
personal data processed wholly or partly by automated means (that is, information in electronic form); and. personal data processed in a non-automated manner which forms part of, or is intended to form part of, a 'filing system' (that is, manual information in a filing system).Is a bank account number considered PII? ›
Personally identifiable information (PII) is any data that can be used to identify someone. All information that directly or indirectly links to a person is considered PII. One's name, email address, phone number, bank account number, and government-issued ID number are all examples of PII.