How Data Privacy Day Came to Be: Part 1

January often has the reputation and the capability of being bleak in the Pacific Northwest, and because it is our natural inclination as humans to seek ways to remedy that — AND because we’re all about to become instantly better people because of our recent (and lasting, of course) New Year’s resolutions — what better time than the last week of January to lighten the collective mood and lean fully into fun-time festivities with a rousing discussion of data privacy, in preparation for Data Privacy Day on Friday, January 28? 

Data Privacy Day has its roots in the European Union (EU). Public polling in Europe suggested that European citizens didn’t fully comprehend their data protection rights, so the powers that be talked amongst themselves and the initiative began to set aside one day to call attention to a myriad of privacy issues. The Council of Europe, along with the support of the European Commission, held the first Data Protection Day — January 28.  

January 28th is significant because it marks the day the Council of Europe opened the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (Convention 108) — in 1981 (apparently, they knew they had a catchy title immediately and just decided to run with it). It was the first legally binding international treaty dealing with privacy and data protection. The founders hoped that commemorating the date would encourage citizens to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practices, as well as rights and responsibilities.  

U.S. Representative David Price took notice of the European Union’s (EU) newly devised Data Protection Day. In 2009 he introduced House Resolution 31 that January 28 was to be declared National Data Privacy Day. The resolution passed by a unanimous vote of 402–0. On 28 January 2009, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 25 also recognizing January 28 as Data Privacy Day.  

Why is Data Privacy Day Significant?  

It’s safe to say that many people may be unaware of how personal information is being used, collected, or shared in our digital society. It’s not just grandpa that wonders why he mentioned a fishing pole at the Thanksgiving table and now he’s getting served ads for Bass Pro Shops.  

Data Privacy Day is an international effort which aims to educate, inspire dialogue, and empower individuals, families, consumers, companies, and governments to take action, respect privacy, safeguard data, and enable trust. It should be a reminder to all organizations that privacy is good for business. The recognition and celebration of the day offers substantial opportunities for collaboration among governments, industry, academia, nonprofits, privacy professionals and educators. 

While the day’s initiative originally focused on education and raising awareness among users and businesses regarding protection of their online personal information specifically in the context of social media — but the scope has expanded well beyond its origins. The day also promotes events and activities that encourage individual control over personally identifiable information (PII) and inspires dialogue among individuals interested in advancing data protection and privacy. You can learn more about Data Privacy data and protecting your privacy online at the National Cybersecurity Alliance website

The privacy team within the City of Seattle is a small but mighty team who work diligently behind the scenes to ensure that the City’s Privacy Principles guide the actions we take when collecting and using personal information – so we take this opportunity to rave a bit about Data Privacy Day and why it’s important to us – and why it should be important to you as well. There are many causes for concern regarding online privacy but dealing with the City shouldn’t be one of them. 

The City collects personal information from the public so we can provide many important services including community and critical infrastructure protection, 911 call response, waste management, electricity delivery, and a myriad of other services. It is important that we all know when and how our personal information is collected, how it is used, disclosed or kept. 

We’re nearing the close of that harsh-reality-month-after-the-holidays we’ve all come to know and love as January. It’s the perfect month to lean into learning more about privacy and engage on topics that can help keep you and your families’ personal information safe online. 

Part two of the story of Data Privacy Day will be published on Friday, January 28.  Check back for continued conversation about why Privacy is significant to the City of Seattle and learn more about Data Privacy Day. 

Article by Nathan Merrells, Sr. Privacy Specialist