In current times, where cybercriminals have many ways to access every piece of information on the internet, you might have stumbled upon the terms “personal data” and “sensitive data.” They are often present in various regulations and other formal documents. For example, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) addresses the concept of personal data and makes a clear distinction between sensitive and non-sensitive data. You may wonder what qualities make each of them unique and why protecting them is so important. In fact, both of these types of data need utmost protection whether you’re in charge of protecting access to your clients’ data or trying to set up a business continuity plan without sacrificing your security across different types of emergency backups. (See Continuity2.com about some solid practices.) 

In this article, we point out the most significant differences between personal and sensitive data. If you are interested in learning more about the privacy laws and how the handling of sensitive information is done, read on.

What is Personal Data?

To put it simply, personal data is any information that can be used to identify an individual person. In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) states that the term “personal data” refers to any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person. This means it describes any data that could be used to identify a person. This can be the person’s name, identification number or even an online identifier.

So, identifying information that includes a person’s name, address (home or work), telephone number, email address, credit card number, and even social media screen name or IP address can be considered personal data.

What is Sensitive Data?

When it comes to sensitive data, there is a certain level of complexity that comes with the definition. First of all, sensitive data is considered as information which is both personal and private. The latter means that sensitive data refers to private information that might expose an individual to a risk of harm or discrimination. According to GDPR, the term “sensitive data” refers to data revealing:

  • racial or ethnic origin,
  • political opinions,
  • religious or philosophical beliefs,
  • trade union membership,
  • genetic data,
  • biometric data used to identify a person such as fingerprint or facial features, or
  • health data about physical or mental health of a person.

It’s important to add here that there are cases when the value of a piece of personal information increases when combined with other information. This can be explained by means of an example. If you know a person’s name and address, this might not be considered as sensitive data. 

However, if you have all the information about their habits, preferences, and bank card details, it will be much easier for you to gain access to their bank account and steal their money. This is why it is crucial to be aware of all the information you store. At the same time, it is also important to remember that any data can become sensitive if it is combined with other pieces of information. That’s why it is crucial to protect all your information and avoid sharing it with anyone you don’t trust.

GDPR also provides examples of data that might be considered as sensitive, such as information regarding an individual’s health conditions, racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data used to identify a person, or sexual orientation.

What is the Difference Between Sensitive Data and Personal Data?

Personal data is any information that can be used to identify an individual. Sensitive data refers to private information that might expose an individual to a risk of harm or discrimination.

Personal and sensitive data are often used interchangeably in various documents. However, there is a difference between them.

Personal data is any information that can be used to identify an individual person. For example, if you know a person’s name and address, this might not be considered as sensitive data. However, if you have all the information about their habits, preferences, and bank card details, this might become sensitive information if it is combined with other pieces of information.

Sensitive data is any information that reveals aspects of one’s private life that tend to be hidden from others for a reason. If you have sensitive data about someone else, you might be able to use it to harm or abuse them. This can be explained by means of an example. If you know a person’s name and address, this might not be considered as sensitive data. However, if you have all the information about their habits, preferences, and bank card details, this might become sensitive information if it is combined with other pieces of information.

Data that might be considered as sensitive includes:

  • Information regarding an individual’s health conditions
  • Racial or ethnic origin
  • Political opinions
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Trade union membership
  • Genetic data
  • Biometric data used to identify a person such as fingerprint or facial features
  • Health data about physical or mental health of a person.

The Difference Between Sensitive Data and Personal Data in Terms of Data Protection Laws

Now that we have sufficiently explained the difference between sensitive and personal data, we can proceed to analyze in what context they are mentioned in data protection laws.

Although the definitions of personal and sensitive data are quite similar in most cases, there are some important differences between them. First of all, personal data is any information that can be used to identify an individual person. On the other hand, sensitive data refers to private information that might expose an individual to a risk of harm or discrimination. Another important factor is the fact that personal data is quite broad in its definition but sensitive data has some limitations. 

Some examples of sensitive data are information regarding an individual’s health conditions, racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data used to identify a person such as fingerprint or facial features, or health data about physical or mental health of a person. As we already mentioned, any personal data can become sensitive if it is combined with other pieces of information. That’s why it is critical to protect all your information and avoid sharing it with anyone you don’t trust. That way you will avoid unnecessary risks and unwanted outcomes.

Conclusion

While they may differ on a legal basis, both Sensitive Data and Personal Data are of utmost importance to users. They can both be used for nefarious purposes if they fall into the hands of data selling hackers. Both types of data are the target of cyber attacks and data mining operations and can be used for identity theft, or even old-fashioned ransom attacks.

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