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    PhysOrg.com: Protecting your virtual privacy

    PhysOrg.com reports on a study about digital privacy from researchers at University of Haifa and Tel Aviv University.

    Dr. Michael Birnhack of TAU’s Faculty of Law and Prof. Niva Elkin-Koren from the University of Haifa recently completed a comprehensive study on information privacy laws in Israel and found compelling reasons for lawmakers everywhere to take notice. “Our research from Israel can serve as a case study of the shortcomings of a comprehensive data protection program,” says Dr. Birnhack.

    “It’s not just sites like Facebook and Twitter that should cause concern,” he continues. “It’s all the trivial things that are collected about us that we’re not protected against.” […]

    A health insurance provider doesn’t need to see your medical records to understand the state of your family’s health. It can learn just as much by looking at your grocery bill. “If you use a discount card at a supermarket, information on your purchases is added to a database. If you shop for halal or kosher products, your religion can be inferred, and the purchases of fatty or gluten-free foods can provide an indicator of your family’s overall health.”

    Federal legislation in the U.S. regulates for some 15 different kinds of specific data sets, such as health data and credit histories, but not for information collected by club and discount cards or by commercial Web sites. And it’s more difficult to write a law to secure confidentiality in those areas, says Dr. Birnhack.

    “Unless there are specific laws in place, this personal digital information is up for grabs. It can be bought and sold between governments and private companies, which can then conduct data mining and analysis on it and sell the results to third parties,” he explains.

    Privacy Lives recently joined nine groups in submitting comments to the Federal Trade Commission urging stronger privacy protections for online data. “Developments in the digital age urgently require the application of Fair Information Practices to new business practices,” the groups said. The comments included a legislative primer and overview, which the groups submitted to Congress in September and detailed recommended solutions for and informing the public and government officials of important gaps in consumer privacy protection.

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