Is there a good word for something to indicate its importance as something that would be dangerous or harmful if it were compromised or leaked? I'm thinking of something like a social security number.

Calling it dangerous or risky seems inappropriate: it isn't inherently harmful. It isn't a bomb. And if protected properly, it poses no threat. Calling it confidential or secret doesn't have the right ring to it, for reasons I can't quite articulate. Calling it valuable or precious also misses the point, as it doesn't have any large value to its owner if it isn't leaked (or at least, that isn't the point).

Yet in a way, I'm looking for a word that in the right way captures all three of those words. A word that says that about something relatively innocuous that there is a risk associated with it being stolen, and that it is therefore important to guard it well.

  • As you are giving social security number as an example, my understanding is that it's not – or not necessarily – the thing itself that would be dangerous or harmful if leaked or compromised, but rather the danger or harm would be in the situation arising from the thing's being leaked or compromised. Is that correct? Like prematurely giving publicity to the name of an important witness to a serious crime, perhaps?
    – Andriy M
    Jul 19, 2019 at 8:22

2 Answers 2


You could consider sensitive

Defined by Collins as:

Sensitive documents or reports contain information that needs to be kept secret and dealt with carefully. He instructed staff to shred sensitive documents.

  • 1
    Or 'private' perhaps
    – Mynamite
    Jul 18, 2019 at 22:41

In the financial services industry, this is known has non-public information (NPI). There are many regulations around how businesses are supposed to safeguard NPI such as social security numbers and credit card numbers.

I’m not sure if “NPI” is global or regional (USA).

  • It seems to be US-specific, defined (as ‘Non-public Personal Information’) in the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, 1999. (I've never heard it here in the UK. Though of course it's a fairly transparent term — certainly more so than most in the financial sector!)
    – gidds
    Jul 19, 2019 at 9:29

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