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What Is Personally Identifiable Information (PII)?

Among the myriad types of data, Personally Identifiable Information (PII) holds a unique status due to its potential to identify specific individuals. This information can exist in various forms and when used in combination or alone, can lead to the identification of a particular person. The protection of personally identifiable information is not only a matter of personal privacy but also a legal requirement in many jurisdictions.

What is personally identifiable information?

Personally identifiable information refers to any data that could potentially identify a specific individual. It covers a wide range of information which, when combined or used on its own, can lead to the identification of a particular person. Examples of personally identifiable information include names, home addresses, email addresses, social security numbers, and more.

Sensitive versus non-sensitive personally identifiable information

In the realm of personally identifiable information, a significant distinction exists between sensitive and non-sensitive data.

Sensitive PII

Sensitive PII refers to data that, if disclosed, could result in harm to the individual. This category includes data such as social security numbers, bank account details, and health records. Due to the potential harm associated with the misuse of this data, organizations must take extra precautions to protect it.

Non-sensitive PII

On the other hand, non-sensitive PII is data that, while capable of identifying individuals, is generally available in public records or directories. Examples include names, phone numbers, and addresses. Despite being less sensitive, the protection of this data remains crucial due to the potential for misuse when combined with other data.

Direct versus indirect identifiers

Personally identifiable information can also be categorized into direct and indirect identifiers.

Direct identifiers are pieces of information that can identify an individual without the need for additional data. Examples include social security numbers, passport numbers, and driver’s license numbers.

Indirect identifiers, on the other hand, are pieces of information that, on their own, cannot identify an individual but can do so when combined with other data. Examples include age, gender, and location.

Tips for protecting personally identifiable information

Protecting PII is a shared responsibility between individuals and organizations. Here are some tips to safeguard such information.

1) Be cautious when sharing information online

Firstly, always be cautious while sharing personal information online. Only provide sensitive data when absolutely necessary and ensure the recipient is trustworthy.

2) Use strong and unique passwords

Secondly, use strong and unique passwords for all online accounts. Regularly updating these passwords can further enhance security.

3) Keep personal devices secure and updated

Thirdly, keep all personal devices secure. This includes installing reputable security software and keeping all software up to date.

4) Set up encryption and other security methods

Lastly, organizations should employ robust data encryption methods, ensure secure data storage, and educate employees about the importance of data privacy.


With the right knowledge and practices, it is possible to safeguard PII and confidential information effectively. Remember, the protection of PII is not just about compliance with laws and regulations, it is about preserving the trust and confidence of individuals in the digital space.

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