Saturday, October 2, 2004

Personal Data Privacy

I am not a defender of personal data privacy. My bottom line is that personal privacy must be balanced with personal needs. I welcome the up-to-date information sent to me by vendors and advertisers. I don't mind letting them know some of my personal data. I just want to be able to refuse those I do not want. It is a fact that we live in a city rather than alone in the wilderness and we enjoy much convenience and protection offered by the society. The price, or the duty and obligation, is to contribute to the collective activities of the society. Being a screw in the big machine means that the machine will need to know the property and function of the screw. Some of the personal data are actually part and parcel of the big picture.

The worry is the abuse of personal data, that someone is using the personal data in their possession for unlawful activities, which in turn infringe on personal rights. Personal rights come in many forms and are tied closely to vested interest. What you think that could be done legally with other's personal data may be considered the opposite if it incurs a loss to the data subject. I think the remedy should be decided by the court on whether the improper use of personal data has caused damages. The cat and mouse race of data protection will not produce a satisfactory solution given the ever advancing technology.

What I want to point out is the role of HR managers (EOs) in this subject. We are the collectors, keepers and users of much personal data, in particular employees' personal data. We can be the guardians of personal data privacy and restrict their use to the single purpose of their collection. We can also use personal data as a powerful tool to perform much HRM functions to meet the objectives of the organization. It works both ways. The challenge for HR managers is how to walk this high wire in order to meet both purposes satisfactorily. This is an opportunity for EO to go professional if we could have a core group of colleagues specializing in PDPO, their application and restriction, and the up-to-date trend and technology in data collection and monitoring. It touches upon areas in HR management, IT management, office management, record management and security management, all EOs' core duties.

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