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A quick call with Eric van Hoof on online privacy, knights’ shields and looking left, right and left again

With Sunday 28 January the annual European Data Protection Day, we are drawing attention to data protection and the right to privacy. Because it’s okay to stop and think before sharing our data or that of others, says privacy officer Eric van Hoof. ‘If you cross the road, you don’t do so without looking both ways.’

Privacy officer Eric van Hoof: 'Privacy is not just about you but also about the people around you.'

Hi Eric, what exactly is personal data?

‘Personal data is any data that can be traced back to you as a person. So names and addresses but also bank account numbers, IP addresses, browser settings or even student ID numbers. Processing personal data is not just about storing it: it is everything that you can do with it, from sharing and collecting to consulting and deleting it.’

At the university, students and staff work with other people’s personal data. This is where you and your colleagues from the Privacy Office come in. What kind of things do you get up to?

‘Our duties are really wide-ranging. We help academics who work with privacy-sensitive data or we answer questions from students who want to have certain laws explained. We are also involved in all the software and hardware that the university purchases and we check agreements made with external parties that involve exchanging or storing data. And we are obviously ready for when things go wrong: every data breach passes through our hands.’

What is your top privacy tip for your colleagues?

‘Look left, right and left again! That is what we learn as children when crossing the road and the same also applies to the digital highway. It can help as a staff member to think about the fact that you work with personal data: Whom am I going to share this information with and why? Do I really need to forward these presentation slides or research results? Are all email addresses in BCC? Can I use this free software?

And what if you have looked left, right and left again and are unsure about the privacy aspects of something?

Send us an email! Especially if you are unsure. Dumb questions don’t exist for us and you can better ask ten questions too many than one too few, given the consequences. This can be about anything: Is it safe to share files through Sharepoint? Can I mail this information to an external party? You can also ask questions about ethical issues relating to privacy. It’s a shame because many colleagues see us as a kind of police force that decides what you can and can’t do, or a fire brigade that comes to fight a fire after a data breach has been discovered. I see us as knights: we carry shields and swords to protect staff from the consequences of the outside world. So feel free to send a message to privacy@bb.leidenuniv.nl. You’ll get a quick reply.’

Why is protecting privacy becoming more urgent?

‘In this digital age, protecting our data is more important than ever. There are enough entities that want to make a profit from selling your data. People often say: “I’ve got nothing to hide.” But you do – in fact, it’s your duty! If you are in doubt about this, I recommend watching the short film Nachricht von Ella. This shows exactly why privacy is so important and how far-reaching the consequences can be if you don’t watch out. After all, privacy is not just about you but also about the people around you.’

A quick call with

There’s a lot happening at Leiden University. The websites fill with news on a daily basis. In ‘A quick call with’, we ask a member of staff to tell us more about a relevant and topical subject.

Text: Evelien Flink
Banner: Eelkje Colmjon

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