Sensitive Personal Information (SPI): What You Need to Know

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Sensitive Personal Information is more vulnerable than ever to privacy breaches and cyber-attacks.

Sensitive personal information refers to information that could potentially be used to identify an individual and cause significant harm in the wrong hands. This includes Social Security numbers, bank account information, and health information.

In this article, we will discuss sensitive personal information examples, classification under the CPRA and GDPR, and best practices for protection.

Table of Contents for Sensitive Personal Information Guide

  • What is Sensitive Personal Information?
  • Why is Sensitive Personal Information Important to Protect?
  • Examples of Sensitive Personal Information
    • Financial Information
    • Medical Information
    • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
    • Biometric Information
    • Criminal History
    • Ethnicity and Race
    • Religious Beliefs
  • Sensitive Personal Information under CPRA and GDPR
    • CPRA Classification
    • GDPR Classification
  • Best Practices for Protecting Sensitive Personal Information
    • Best Practices for Organizations
    • Best Practices for Individuals
  • Closing

Now, let’s dive into this sensitive personal information (SPI) Guide:

What is Sensitive Personal Information?

Sensitive personal information, or sensitive PII, is a subset of personally identifiable information (PII).

Shawn Loveland, COO of Resecurity defines it as:

“Any data that, if shared without proper authorization, may seriously harm an individual’s privacy and well-being.”

This doesn’t include regular contact details like your name, email address, and home address since most people have this info out there anyway.

Instead, sensitive personal information includes things that are often kept confidential for good reason. These sorts of privately held information, such as Social Security numbers, can identify someone explicitly and leave them open to serious harm when stolen by hackers through cyber-attacks or other means.

Why is Sensitive Personal Information Important to Protect?

Managing sensitive personal information is a big responsibility. As an organization, every bit of data you collect from your customers must be treated with the utmost care. This isn’t just about keeping trust with those who use your services. It’s also about complying with laws that protect people’s privacy.

A data breach in data security can hurt more than just the data subject (individual) affected. It could harm a company’s reputation or even result in hefty fines for not adequately protecting this information – something no business wants to face! Cybersecurity should never be brushed aside, especially when dealing directly with SPI.

Examples of Sensitive Personal Information

Understanding what qualifies as sensitive personal information (SPI) is the first step in protecting it. Different types of data can be classified as SPI, depending on how identifiable and potentially damaging they are if misused or disclosed without consent. Let’s delve deeper into a few examples:

Financial Information

Your customer’s financial details, like credit card numbers and bank account details, are prime examples of SPI. These data bits enable direct access to a person’s financial resources – hence being highly sensitive if they fall into the wrong hands.

Medical Information

Health-related information builds another category within SPI. This includes medical history, treatment details, or health insurance specifics. Unauthorized disclosure could lead to discrimination in employment and healthcare settings, not to mention the breach of an individual’s privacy.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Today, more businesses are being receptive to acknowledging the identity of those who aren’t represented in traditional binary categories. As a company dealing with this information, it’s vital that these details remain confidential unless willingly shared by individuals themselves.

Biometric Information

Details like fingerprints, iris scans, or facial recognition can uniquely identify individuals and hence fall into SPI. Because these data carry the potential for abuse if leaked — think identity theft on a grand scale — it’s essential to handle them carefully.

Criminal History

Past criminal records need stringent privacy measures. Revealing such sensitive information without proper permission may lead to stigmatization and discrimination.

Ethnicity & Race

It’s important to protect information about people’s racial or ethnic background. This data, if exposed, could become the basis of unfair treatment and discrimination.

Religious Beliefs

In a world that cherishes diversity and freedom of thought, religious beliefs must be respected on all levels, including privacy. Hence, disclosing such personal belief systems without consent can lead to serious damage.

Sensitive Personal Information under CPRA and GDPR

Different jurisdictions around the world define and handle SPI differently based on their specific data protection laws.

Two widely recognized privacy legislations are California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CPRA) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). They provide a framework for how to process, safeguard, share, or not such information.

CPRA Classification

The CPRA essentially expands on the previous California Consumer Privacy Act to allow Californians greater control over their personal information. Here, sensitive is a designated class of ‘personal information’ and includes identifiers that could potentially link data back to people.

These include:

  • Security number or other state identification numbers
  • Account log-in details, financial account data, debit card or credit card number with required secure access codes and credentials
  • Data like a consumer’s geolocation are included
  • Distinctive characteristics such as race or ethnicity, religion, and genetic makeup
  • The contents of a consumer’s mail, email, or text messages

GDPR Classification

The General Data Protection Regulation broadens the rights European residents have over their personal data and classifies sensitive information into several categories.

In contrast to CPRA, it designs its regulations based on an understanding that privacy is considered a fundamental human right in the EU.

In GDPR’s classification, separate treatment for processing classified SPI include:

  • Personal data revealing ethnic or racial origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Information about a person’s trade union membership
  • Genetic and biometric data processed solely to identify an individual
  • Health-related information
  • Disclosure related to sex life and sexual orientation

Best Practices for Protecting Sensitive Personal Information

Protecting sensitive personal data isn’t just a business’s legal obligation. It also builds consumer trust and brand loyalty.

Best practices to shield this category of data can vary from technical measures like encryption, data privacy impact assessments, and employee training on data handling protocols. Let’s cover some of the best practices for businesses and people here:

Best Practices for Businesses

  • Nick Henderson-Mayo, Director at Vinciworks, says: “Start with a good classification system. Ensure sensitive personal data is properly labelled and organised through a comprehensive data classification policy.”
  • Secure communication channels and networks with encryption
  • Stringent access control measures to restrict who can view the information
  • Regular system audits are vital, along with a plan of action in case breaches happen
  • Regular updates of systems and software to protect data
  • Conducting impact assessments before launching new projects involving SPI
  • Implementing multi-factor authentication for all accounts
  • Educating employees about the importance of protecting SPI and providing training on how to handle it appropriately
  • Make sure to dispose of sensitive paper documents correctly, such as shredding
  • Handle cloud storage with extra care to guard against unauthorized access or data leakage
  • Regularly monitor and review system logs for any suspicious activities
  • Make sure to close inactive accounts in a timely manner, as they can pose unnecessary data security risks
  • Regularly back up sensitive information securely so it’s not irretrievably lost if something happens with your system or network
  • Hire data security experts like Captain Compliance to keep SPI safe

Best Practices for Individuals

For individuals, taking the right steps can also safeguard sensitive personal information. These include:

  • Creating strong and unique passwords
  • Regularly updating software systems and applications on your device
  • Avoiding sharing sensitive details over unsecured networks
  • Being wary of unsolicited communication asking for your personal information
  • Using reputable security software, including anti-virus tools
  • Regular monitoring of bank statements for unauthorized transactions or activities
  • Shredding documents containing sensitive data when no longer needed
  • Regular backups of valuable digital files to prevent potential loss in case your system is compromised

How Can Captain Compliance Help?

Sensitive personal data protection isn’t just necessary – it’s often mandated and needed to maintain trust in the digital world we live in. Businesses handling this sort of data must take the necessary steps toward securing sensitive information.

Remember always that working with SPI is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. That’s why you should have a trusted partner like Captain Compliance by your side.

Captain Compliance can handle all compliance needs for your business so you can focus on what you do best. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn what you should be doing for your sensitive data.

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