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A Quick Lowdown on Personally Identifiable Information

So for starters, for sounding cool’s sake, you can refer to personally identifiable information as PII. (Just something fun to keep in your back pocket, ya know?)

But onto the dirt: Personally Identifiable Information is any information that can be connected to a person, anything you can use to identify or contact someone.

We’re talkin’ things like a name (duh), an email address, a snail mail address, phone number, or social security number—anything that’s personally identifiable is considered PII and is protected under federal law.

Ooh things just got serious, huh? One government agency defines PII as, “information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity, either alone or when combined with other personal or identifying information that is linked or linkable to a specific individual.“

For security and privacy reasons, Personally Identifiable Information is protected under both state and Federal law in the US, as well as by law in the UK, Australia, Canada, by EU Directive, and in many other jurisdictions. Social media, e-commerce, and Internet technologies all use PII.

So what’s this mean for you? Well, when you do business on the ‘ol ‘net, best practice is to follow the law in as many of these jurisdictions as you can, so that you’re protected when your customers are from everywhere in the world (because they likely are).

Generally, what that means is that if you’re a US-based business, you should comply with both Federal law and the law of your state. Also, California law requires that anyone who has customers in California comply with California law, so your privacy policy should comply with that too. And if you plan to do a lot of business in the EU, you should review their law too.

Oh the joys of all the laws! But really, just get familiar with them now and you will save yourself a ton of heartache later.


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