Who is protecting our identities online?

Personal information might be the most valuable thing any of us have, and traditional ways of protecting it are in the rear-view mirror

Personal information might be the most valuable thing any of us have, and traditional ways of protecting it are in the rear-view mirror.

The Internet is rapidly changing the way important personal info is stored and accessed — from in-your-hand paper files to somewhere-in-cyberspace electronic data files.

For example, coming soon to Alberta will be the ability to post and access personal detailed medical information online. It will be a first for Canada and one of the first in the world.

Our financial/ banking information is online. We input other personal information online for different reasons. For the first time, we can fill out the 2011 Canada census form online. Millions of Canadians blog, Tweet, Facebook online with a trust not unlike that of two-year-olds.

If you want to know personal information about someone else, try Facebook or Google. The Internet is a snooper’s paradise, and for employers it is now a useful tool that can shed light on an individual being considered for a job. Journalists regularly go to Facebook, Twitter and search engines like Google for information — as do a lot of people who do not have the public interest in mind.

If none of this is making any sense to you, it’s because you are not “wired” to the Internet. Lucky for you, you may still have all your personal information intact.

Over the past couple of months, numerous online businesses, institutions and organizations have been “hacked” and clients’ personal information has been compromised.

TripAdvisor is a popular website offering travel information. The site was attacked recently and in March members were told that emails addresses had been stolen. Best Buy Canada and Air Miles were also among a number of recent victims (who are all served by the same email service company) who suffered a security breach that saw hackers steal millions of names and email addresses.

The bad guys did not get more personal information such as passwords or account details. Nevertheless, the message is clear — there are online vulnerabilities.

In one of the most serious online security breaches, PlayStation Network with 77 million users and the Sony Online Entertainment Network with 25 million users were attacked last month.

Information stolen may have included names, addresses, email addresses, birthdates, gender, phone numbers, login names, and passwords. As well, information that may have been taken from an older database included some credit or direct debit numbers and expiration dates and direct debit records.

It may be the largest theft of identity data information ever.

And as this is happening, the government of Alberta decided in its wisdom to announce on May 4 that it is moving us toward a day not too far from now where our personal medical information will be accessible online.

A year from now, Albertans will be able to input information such as blood pressure, immunization records, weight and height so they can track their personal health over time.

Come 2014 to 2015, Albertans will be able to enter a secure online site where they can see their electronic health record, similar to what their doctors see — information like blood test results, MRIs and prescription information.

It’s good to have information like this easily and quickly accessible to patients and doctors and other health care professionals.

There will be a price to pay, though — there’s no guarantee it will stay off the hard drives of those who want to illegally access it.

The question isn’t whether this information can be hacked, it’s when?

Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.