IP Addresses as Personal Data

Posted by Keith McMillan

January 25, 2008 | Leave a Comment

There’s an interesting article over at the Washington Post, found via Slashdot, in which we find that the EU is proposing that IP addresses be treated as personal data.

Scharr [Germany’s data protection commissioner] told a European Parliament hearing on online data protection that when someone is identified by an IP, or Internet protocol, address, “then it has to be regarded as personal data.”

I’ve long been a fan of the way the Europe treats personal information. Here in the US, it seems that any information a business collects about me is the property of the business. This includes things like my address, my birthday, my phone numbers, etc.

In Europe, personal information is treated as the property of the person, rather than the business, and the restrictions on what can be done with the information, and how it must be protected are rather more stringent.

It’s going to be a real challenge to treat IP addresses in this category. For one thing, as the article points out, these addresses can (and do) change when addresses are dynamically assigned via DHCP, rather than statically bound to a person.

It’s also going to be a real change of business practices for anyone using IP addresses to track purchases, or otherwise snoop on an internet user. What, for instance, will this mean for your average web site, who’s web server logs are full of these IP addresses, recording where requests came from and what was requested? How will we balance the right of the individual or business providing a web site to manage their services, with the rights of the EU individual to have their IP address secured as personal information?

It’s too soon to see what this means yet, but on the face of it, it looks like the stated goal of the EU is going to be technologically very difficult to achieve.


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