Digital data privacy protection will require government's involvement: Michael Chertoff

The public has been extra cautious about protecting their personal information in the digital era after hacks and breaches have exposed the personal data of millions to corporations and governments.

The rise in cyber-crime and the exploitation of personal data for commercial gain is pushing companies to shift its focus on gaining the consumer’s trust, according to former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff

Chertoff said there’s an explosive amount of digital data that’s being aggregated in a monetary form -- and that eventually could be detrimental to everyone’s personal freedom.

“A world in which somebody’s able to track everything you buy, see, do, how you sleep, how you exercise, is a world where you can begin to observe pressure on people,” he said during a Friday interview on “WSJ At Large With Gerry Baker.”

Big tech companies, perhaps most notably Facebook, have been scrutinized over how they use the personal data of their active users and whether they pass it on to third-party users.

“I think the urge to monetize, transfer or otherwise exploit the data outran this set of rules and common sense that have to apply,” Chertoff said.

Chertoff said the threat to digital privacy protection extends globally with China advancing its efforts to digital authoritarianism and cyber expansionism.

“[China is] now are developing a social credit score based on your activities that is essentially going to be a softer version of ‘1984,’” he said, referring to the dystopian novel penned by George Orwell.

Although it seems almost impossible to go completely dark and remove yourself from the digital grid, Chertoff suggests making mindful decisions about what you sign up for, what information you transmit or simply whether your phone is on or not, as the best way to protect your privacy.

“This is an area where ultimately government is going to have to get involved, and there’s going to have to be a set of rules about what companies need to do to get your OK before they adapt your information,” he said.