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What is Confidential Data?

This article applies to: Data Discovery

Policy 5.10, Information Security, classifies as confidential any of the following data elements when they appear in conjunction with an individual’s name or other identifier:

  • Social Security number
  • Credit card number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Bank account number
  • Protected health information, as defined by HIPAA

Confidential data is created by people to describe people. It is (or has been) used at Cornell for the following purposes:

  • To uniquely identify people.
  • To pay or reimburse people.
  • To provide employment benefits.
  • To support business-related travel and lodging.
  • To understand the financial status of a person.
  • To fulfill obligations to the state or federal government.

(Some of these practices have been discontinued, but others continue to be used.) 

To prepare for data discovery and cleanup, think about the work you do and where you might come into contact with confidential data, now but also in the past. Some good questions to answer include:

  • What jobs have you had before this one?
  • Do you still retain files from those jobs?
  • Did you have files transferred from an older computer to your current one?
  • Has anyone else used or been responsible for your computer in the past? Do they have files on your computer?
  • What other places do you store files? (For example, a server file share, network drive, external hard drive, USB thumb drive, or CD/DVD.)

You may find that you are storing confidential data that you have forgotten about or weren't ever aware of. It's important to do a thorough scan of all of the files on your computer no matter when they were created or who created them. Once you've identified the confidential data, you can decide what to do with it.

If you're interested, you can read a technical description of confidential data on the Confidential Data Types page. It provides some insight into the challenges confidential data presents to scan tools and reinforces the key role you'll play in understanding what's on your computer and in your files.

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