Question: Do the terms “personal data” and “personal information” mean the same thing?

Not necessarily.

HR professionals who are responsible for bringing the employer into compliance with the CCPA need to know that there is no one definition of “personal information” or “personal data” and the meaning of those terms differs depending upon the context and the type of law at issue.

Only the term “personal information” is defined within the CCPA. As is discussed in Q-2 that term refers to any information that “identifies, relates to, describes, is capable of being associated with, or could reasonably be linked, directly or indirectly, with a particular consumer or household.”[1] That said, the term “personal data” is used instead of the term “personal information” within the CCPA’s definition of “processing” which is defined as “any operation or set of operations that are performed on personal data . . . .”[2] It is not clear whether the change in terminology was intended to impart some meaning or is a drafting oversight. The latter appears to be the most plausible explanation, as the drafters of the CCPA likely copied the definition of “processing” from the GDPR (which has a near identical definition of “processing”) and forgot to replace the word “personal data” (a term used within the GDPR) with the term “personal information.”[3]

The terms “personal data” or “personal information” are used in other statutes and regulations in very different contexts and with very different meanings. For example, the term “personal information” is defined under several other states statutes as referring only to a person’s name in combination with a small sub-set of data fields viewed by legislators as being particularly sensitive. For example, the state of Maryland defines the term as follows:

“an individual’s first name or first initial and last name in combination with any one or more of the following data elements, when the name or the data elements are not encrypted, redacted, or otherwise protected by another method that renders the information unreadable or unusable: (i) A Social Security number; (ii) A driver’s license number; (iii) A financial account number . . .; (iv) An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.[4]

We expect the California Attorney General will provide guidance on applying these terms through the CCPA rulemaking process.