Revealed: Secret PIIs in Your Unstructured Data: Opinion
Personally identifiable information, or PII, is pretty intuitive. If you know someone’s phone, Social Security number or credit card number, you have a direct link to their identity.
Hackers use these identifiers, along with a few more personal details, as keys to unlock data, steal identities, and ultimately take money. The lines between PII and non-PII data are blurring. It’s been known for at least 10 years that there are specific pieces of data which may appear anonymous, but when they’re taken together are just as effective at identifying a person as traditional PII.
Carnegie Mellon computer science professor and data privacy expert Latanya Sweeney ran the numbers back in 2000: using then current census data (broken down by ZIP codes and age groups) she was able to identify 87% of the people in the U.S. using just those three non-PIIs.
Piecing the information together is even easier in the UK, as a post code will often cover little more than a single street.