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Law Enforcement, Data Privacy and Computer Information Sciences

The widespread tracking, sharing and use of personal information gathered from online sources and devices raise complex ethical and legal issues. Additionally, law enforcement’s increasing use of such data sources is compounding these issues.

Law enforcement is not usually associated with computer information sciences (CIS), but in the realm of evolving data privacy concerns and regulations, law enforcement and CIS intersect in complicated ways. Given this, aspiring CIS professionals must stay informed regarding ongoing developments surrounding law, data privacy and security.

Lamar University’s online Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in CIS degree program includes coursework on law and ethics in computer sciences as well as cybersecurity systems and practices. Through these studies, students can develop the current knowledge needed to navigate the changing landscape of CIS, data privacy and law.

How Is Data Privacy Linked to CIS?

Professionals can gather and aggregate person-level data from myriad sources like cellular companies, “smart” digital devices, website traffic, social media platforms, internet providers and more. The use of person-level data is common to analytics applications of CIS in areas like business management, politics and, as noted above, law enforcement.

CIS professionals often design and manage the systems and software solutions that gather, organize, store, analyze and utilize such information. CIS professionals work with data at the granular, technical level. They may also integrate data-driven analytics software systems and other information technology (IT) systems across an organization’s functional areas.

An aspect of this is implementing the software systems and data governance procedures that control how companies gather, secure, access and use information. In such roles, CIS professionals are central to ensuring the security and privacy of people’s data is maintained throughout the data’s “life cycle” within an organization.

How Are Data Privacy Regulations Developing?

A Forbes article notes that largescale data breaches, scandals and irresponsible exploitations of personal data have led to widespread data privacy concerns. A patchwork of laws in the U.S. protects aspects of citizens’ private data, such as certain data regarding finances, health and children. Still, comprehensive federal data privacy legislation has lagged behind digital technology development and data use.

Individual states have been quicker to adopt broader data protection regulations. Most notably, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in 2018 and expanded on that law with the California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act (CPRA) in 2020.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states introduced bills related to consumer privacy in 2021, and 25 states considered comprehensive legislation similar to the CCPA. Internationally, the European Union enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018. This directive is perhaps the most comprehensive regulation concerning consumer data rights worldwide.

The CCPA, CPRA and GDPR regulate the control consumers have over their personal information and accountability measures for data privacy violations. These laws protect the data privacy rights of California residents and European citizens, respectively.

California and Europe represent a large portion of the global economy. Any business that is national or global in scope, or even has an online presence in either region, must comply with these regulations or face enforcement measures. Given this, the CCPA, CPRA and GDPR are driving global data privacy practices and regulation development. CIS professionals must understand current regulations to ensure compliance with the software and systems they design and use.

How Do Law Enforcement Agencies Use Consumer Data?

Increasingly, law enforcement agencies are leveraging data from search and location history, social media, cell phones and other sources to aid in investigations. These sources can be a boon for preventing and solving crimes while also presenting data privacy challenges and debates.

Law enforcement agencies use online data collected by companies like Google for many reasons. Investigations may use geofence location warrants to identify large swathes of people who were near a crime location at a specific time. Similarly, reverse search warrants are used to identify people who have searched for keywords that could relate to a crime.

Many civil liberty advocates oppose these and other law enforcement practices as violations of citizens’ data privacy and rights. Still, laws regarding law enforcement’s access to private data from devices and online sources are vague. Without concrete laws or authoritative court ruling precedents, people have relatively little say in when and how law enforcement uses their online data.

In managing information systems dealing with consumer data, CIS professionals must balance data privacy protection, regulation compliance and cooperation with law enforcement. The more CIS professionals learn about the intersection of data privacy, security, legal issues and ethical considerations, the better they can address these ever-evolving challenges in CIS-related fields.

Learn more about Lamar University’s online B.S. in Computer Information Sciences program.

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