Gathering Personal Information Discreetly

Gathering personal information discreetly can be tricky. PII refers to information that can identify an individual and can cause harm or embarrassment to the person if it is lost, stolen or disclosed.


Personal information can be collected directly or indirectly. A direct collection occurs when the information is obtained from an individual or their substitute decision-maker. An indirect collection occurs when a third party collects the information from another source.

1. Keep it in writing

It’s important to gather information discreetly, especially when it comes to personal matters. It’s a good idea to keep the bare minimum in writing; that way you can prove what you said and that it wasn’t misinterpreted. You can also use secure communication tools such as encrypted messaging apps to ensure that the information you are sharing is private. Finally, be careful not to invade anyone’s privacy by physically entering their home or other private spaces and gathering information that could identify them. That’s considered intrusion upon seclusion and can land you in legal hot water. So, always ask if it’s okay to enter someone’s private space before you do.

2. Keep it in a safe place

Keeping your personal information discreetly in a safe place is important to protect yourself. Keep your Social Security card, insurance cards and credit/debit cards in a locked drawer or wallet when at home. In most communities there are shred days where you can bring papers to be shredded that have your name and/or address on them. Keep your wallet and purse in a secure place when at work or out in public. Use aliases when possible to avoid divulging sensitive information. If you feel that someone is trying to crowbar information out of you that you want to keep private, change the topic and/or deflect them to something else.

In an era where people feel at the mercy of not only pressure groups but large organizations that view them as nothing more than lifeless data floating in electronic chambers, it is important to be proactive about protecting your own personal information and being mindful of privacy laws.

3. Keep it confidential

If you have personal information that you’re not sure you should share, be very careful about how you go about it. It is usually a good rule to keep it confidential and never gossip about people behind their backs, especially when they are not around. This also applies to professional information you might receive in interviews, such as ethnic background or disabilities; keeping it private is a legal requirement in many countries and you can be held liable for intrusion upon seclusion if you divulge this kind of information without permission.

When it comes to sensitive personal information, such as health issues, sexuality or religious beliefs, you should avoid telling other people about it unless absolutely necessary. If you can’t help it, try to only tell the bare minimum via email, and always assume that emails may end up in the wrong hands. If you must tell people, make sure to do so in person and preferably behind closed doors; this helps you maintain discretion and also shows that you care enough about the individual to respect their wishes.

This is particularly important in this era, when so many people feel they are at the mercy of pressure groups and large organizations that view them as nothing more than lifeless data floating like microscopic particles in vast electronic chambers, waiting to be captured, examined, collated and sold. The more that can be done to preserve confidentiality, the more people will have a chance to choose what should be public and what should remain private.

4. Keep it private

While it is important to be able to gather information discreetly, it is equally important to keep that information private. It is against the law to invade another person’s privacy, whether in physical space or in electronic space, and it’s best not to divulge confidential information unless you absolutely need to do so for safety reasons (such as if you have an active emergency). When in doubt, try to change the subject or deflect the conversation by asking about something else entirely. It also helps to acclimate people to the information you’re about to share by slowly introducing it over time so that it comes as less of a surprise. Finally, make sure to shred documents or emails that contain personal information after you’re done with them.