Protect your personal data: clean up your accounts

Throughout the year, we share confidential data with companies, administrations or relatives. It is a good idea to clean up once a year, to remove these documents or information from our accounts.

The best way to protect information is not to have it, especially if it is useless or outdated. I say it often. When I analyze the type of data held in an organization, I question the relevance of keeping the data. Often, the use is punctual and the retention only brings problems. Deleting the data is the most effective protection technique.

Why do you need this data?

Potential or future need is the number one reason when I ask what the data is for. It is true that data is valuable. But if you don’t know when or how you’re going to use it, you’re taking a big risk by keeping too much data.

The second reason given is compliance with laws, regulations or good practices. Compliance is a good excuse. When I read the official texts, I often find that if the data must be verified, there is no retention requirement to re-verify or confirm the verification. Again, with good processes, you ensure quality the first time. You do not need to retain the information or documents for future reference.

This is particularly true for identity checks. Whether it’s at a school, a sports club or a bank, once you’ve confirmed the identity, you don’t need the identification documents anymore.

We are not deprived of what we don’t need.

Attributed to Cicero, Roman statesman, 106 BCE.

Example of deletion of personal data

This good practice also applies to each of us. I recently did the exercise. I found in my personal emails a copy of my passport, but also 4 copies of passports of my family members. My personal information and that of my family was present in dozens of messages. Combining the date of birth with an ID number is risky. I also found a medical file about myself. Within 30 minutes, I deleted all of this information. And I stored the medical record elsewhere, with a password.

E-mail is still the safest way to exchange personal or confidential information, but it is important to delete it once it is no longer needed.

Remove your personal data from your email

Here are a few techniques to find messages with your personal information.

  1. Search for keywords like “passport”, “date of birth”, “visa”.
  2. Search for key dates such as your year of birth or the day and month e.g. “February 12” “1985
  3. Continue with dates about your relatives: their birth years, the day and month combination.
  4. Check the attachments sent or received.

It’s up to you to decide what you want to remove. For example, I have kept the birth congratulations messages, even if they contain a birth date. Remember that it is the combination of data that is most at risk. Last name, first name, telephone number, address, ID number, date and place of birth, …

Search through your sent and received messages, and all your mailboxes, including your work mailbox.

Protect the personal data in your documents

Again, you should delete any information you no longer need.

The digital copies of your passport, birth certificate, immigration status must be protected. The most secured way is to create a compressed folder (zip, rar, …) and protect it with a password. WinRAR is the easiest tool if you have never done it before.

This protection applies to your medical data, passwords, emergency code lists, and tax returns.