International Privacy Day 2021: Do you have something to hide?

International Privacy Day 2021: Do you have something to hide?
Charlotte Bourguignon


Written by Bart Van Buitenen
Director Expertise at CRANIUM Privacy & Security


The number of complaints to our Data Protection Authority (DPA) doubled in 2020 compared to 2019. These complaints relate to the tracking of personal data, unwanted advertising or camera surveillance. Today, on International Privacy Day, this indicates that awareness of privacy is on the rise. This is a positive evolution, because we should never forget that we all have something to hide.

How could it be otherwise in times where the phrase of the year is “You’re still on mute!”? Suddenly, a large part of our lives takes place online, on a digital highway where non-essential travel can still take place freely. We do it eagerly: more than ever, our data is flying around digitally, sent back and forth between online retailers, messaging and video tools, social media and much more.

The literal price of digitalisation

However, this digitalisation also comes at a price. In the Netherlands, the police estimated that so-called ‘friend-in-need fraud’ accounted for 13 million euros in damages in 2020. Our GBA itself very recently dealt with a case in which a 25,000 euro fine was imposed on a telecom company for wrongfully transferring someone’s telephone number to a scammer. A scammer who, armed with a few personal details, convinced the shop assistant to issue a new SIM card. Nowadays, there is so much attached to that mobile number, can you imagine the damage that can be caused when someone with malicious intentions has access to it?

Thriving trade in sensitive data

Let’s not forget the government. Never before has the government used digital means to process its citizens’ data on such a big scale. With over 2 million downloads, the government’s Coronalert app is its most popular ever, and things like contact tracing simply cannot happen without databases containing data.

However our northern neighbours show us what can go wrong when a lot of sensitive data is collected: this week it was revealed how within the entity in charge of testing and contact tracing in the Netherlands (the Gemeentelijke Gezondheidsdienst or GGD) a thriving trade had developed, with data from the databases being sold on the internet.

“I don’t have anything to hide” refuted this International Privacy Day

Meanwhile, the classic privacy statement “I don’t have anything to hide” has been refuted. Yes, you and everyone around you has something to hide. We are not talking about intimate pictures on your mobile phone or secret messages about criminal activities. The data that deserves the most protection is precisely the data that we all have, such as our name, address, telephone number, national register number or our test results.

Now, more than ever, the message is to be cautious, to question things, never to give away more data than necessary and to complain if abuse is suspected. As citizens, we all share a responsibility to limit breaches and to watch over our data.