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With Father’s Day coming up, I’m reminded of my own father, who worked at the US Central Intelligence Agency, and how he contributed to my understanding of data privacy.

The first question people would ask me when I was younger was whether my dad was a spy. Although I can neither confirm nor deny this information, I can tell you what it was like growing up with a dad who spent his career keeping a lot of national data private. He would often repeat essential privacy tips and guidance to us, like:

  • Shred (or burn) anything with your data on it once you no longer need it.
  • Assume all digital files, emails, and texts you make could potentially be read by someone else.
  • Don’t ever share your personal data with anyone who you wouldn’t trust to keep it safe.
  • Always use a virus scanner when downloading anything from the internet, especially email attachments.

When I was young, I would roll my eyes and think “Who would want my data?” I didn’t have any concern for data privacy — despite my dad’s career and guidance — until 2013 when I became one of the 110 million people hit by the Target data breach*. This breach was particularly bad due to Target’s lax network access practices and the many warnings they chose to ignore. Luckily, I was able to address the breach quickly and monitor my information to avoid problems and unauthorized credit issues, but not everyone came out unscathed. 

Finally, the reality had hit me that my data was important, and in the wrong hands, could severely disrupt my life and future. I don’t think my dad could have predicted back in the 90s/00s that businesses and individuals would share and sell data at the level we do today, but his lessons still ring true. So, thanks Dad for all that you’ve taught me about privacy, and happy Father’s Day!

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