Gartner reveals top 5 issues for privacy officers

9 Aug 2011

Data breaches, cloud computing, location-based services and regulatory changes will force virtually all organisations to review, and at least half of them to also revise, their current privacy policies before the end of 2012, a report by Gartner, Inc, suggests.

These issues will dominate the privacy officer’s agenda for the next two years.

In 2010, organisations saw new threats to personal data and privacy, said Carsten Casper, research director at Gartner.

Throughout 2011 and 2012, privacy programmes will remain chronically underfunded, requiring privacy officers to build and maintain strong relationships with regulatory authorities and the privacy advocacy community, Casper added.

Gartner has identified the top 5 issues that privacy officers must pay particular attention to in 2011 and 2012:

1. Data breaches

Organisations should compartmentalise personal information, restrict access, encrypt data when transmitting it across public networks, encrypt data on portable devices, and encrypt data in storage to protect it from users who have been given too much privilege, from rogue administrators and from hackers. Consider data loss prevention tools, tokenisation, data masking and privacy management tools. This topic should not consume more than 10pc of a privacy officer’s time.

2. Location-based services

Not every organisation processes geolocation data, but the area is evolving rapidly, and a specific way of processing may suddenly surface as a privacy scandal (eg, smartphones storing more location information than expected). Many providers are still in the “collect” stage rather than the “use” stage. They compile vast amounts of information, often without a clear plan of what to do with it. This violates a fundamental privacy principle: Collect information only for the purpose for which you need it. Depending on the nature of the business, privacy officers will focus 5-25pc of their time on location-based services.

3. Cloud computing

Cloud computing and privacy are innately at odds. Privacy laws apply to one country; the public cloud, in its ideal form, is not related to any country. Privacy officers should not accept “no” for an answer when asking whether the processing of personal information in the cloud or abroad is allowed. Most privacy laws have some flexibility, guidance is evolving slowly and, in many cases, there are legally acceptable solutions. Organisations should focus on the location of the legal entity of the provider, not on the physical locations of its operation centres. Privacy officers — and enterprise decision makers — should support IT’s cloud and offshore initiatives where possible while achieving maximum privacy protection for the individual customer or employee. This will consume 20-30pc of the privacy officer’s time.

4. The value of privacy determines necessary protection, but it’s difficult to quantify

The value of privacy and the sensitivity of personal information are impossible to determine without context. Personal information has hardly any value or sensitivity. Rather, it depends on how data is being processed. Finding the balance between “not enough” protection and “too much” protection is an ongoing process. Legal requirements are a bad guideline as they trail technical innovation and cultural change by several years. Privacy officers should set up a process to identify stakeholders for personal information, gather requirements from them, influence the design of the business process and applications, and plan for adjustments. Once this process has been created, its execution should take the privacy officer no more than 10pc of his or her time.

5. Regulatory changes

Regulatory changes should not distract privacy officers from pursuing their strategies, because most regulatory changes will only have a mid- to long-term effect. Absent of any specific laws or regulatory guidance, organisations must interpret existing, generic privacy legislation for emerging technologies. Monitoring of regulatory changes and, consequently, adjusting the organisation’s privacy strategy are important tasks, but they should consume more than 5-10pc of the privacy officer’s time.

“The remaining 15-50 percent of the privacy officer’s time should be spent executing the privacy program, managing relations, steering the privacy organisation, reviewing applications, revising policies, document controls, draft privacy terms for contracts, consulting with legal, responding to queries, following up on incidents and supervising the privacy training programme,” Casper said.

Additional information is available in the Gartner report Top Five Issues and Research Agenda, 2011 to 2012: The Privacy Officer.