Explaining “Privacy Attorney”

privacy wutPeople often ask me what I do as an attorney (disclaimer….I do not take clients, I work for a company). When I say I’,m a privacy attorney, the reactions range from polite confusion to complete incomprehension to vague niceties.

My typical response is “Here in the US, you hear about HIPAA HIPAA HIPAA and patients patients patients, right? In all other countries with privacy laws, you don’t have protection because you’re a patient, but because you’re a person.”

It’s a much bigger deal.

Privacy is something that we have lost in this digital world. We need to reclaim our privacy.

The most  movement in personal data protection law is coming out of the European Union, but privacy (data protection) laws are prevalent in Asia-Pacific, Canada, and Latin America. And the level of protection varies greatly – from protecting only employee data, to everyone’s personal data, to online, mobile, financial, etc.

If you are an individual, pay attention to what you share online and how you maintain the security of your data (don’t write your passwords down on a post-it note and stick it to your computer and don’t email ID and credit cards without encryption…and that include efax). If you’re a business, pay attention to what data you collect, whether you need to collect it, how you use it, share it, and secure it – and for goodness sake, know how you long you retain it and DESTROY it.

That’s what a privacy attorney does. In a very small yet profound nutshell.

Privacy Officers are like Washing Machines

washing-privacyPrivacy Officers (whether attorneys or non-attorneys) are a lot like washing machines. Aside from the obvious resemblance that we handle dirty laundry, let’s consider some of the other similarities.

If there is no agitation going on, nothing’s really getting done: Like other compliance roles, privacy may not always sit well with colleagues who may see us as roadblocks to their great ideas. This is one reason why in Europe, privacy officers are afforded a huge measure of protection – they must be able to act independently without fear of reprisal or role reduction. On the other hand, we are here to help get the job done right, so sometimes, we just need time to churn and roll it around a few times!

Front Load  vs. Top Load: Privacy programs function in a variety of different ways and there are benefits in all. Personally, I prefer a front load (seeing privacy as an equal partner, horizontal) rather than top load (pushing duties and mandates down, vertical build), but they all get the job done.

Newer Models: Are the fresh new models really better? Or do they simply have more bells and whistles even though the core job is still a high quality result?

Added Technology: However, maybe those newer models do come with some extra technology, such as sensing the load, adding in steam cleaning, and using less detergent. There are lots of significant considerations when employers look for years of experience – maybe they need years, but maybe they need technical enhancements.

Washing Only, Please: Regardless of any bells and whistles, we really just want a machine that washes clothes. We don’t want a machine that does clothes, dishes, cooking, and floor cleaning (which sounds cool as a concept, but in reality would simply be overloaded and do nothing at a high standard).

Quiet vs. Clunkers: There are some who shake, rattle, and roll and others that are extra quiet. Neither really speak to quality, it’s just a different way of working.

We need the Right Settings to Deliver the Right Results: ‘nough said.

Capacity Limits (Overflows are Bad): Stuff too much in and expect too much done – and you get poor results. Sure, the laundry will be a little cleaner, but only marginally. Similarly, putting in too much detergent, bleach, softener – not good. Right amounts at the right times result in optimum work.

Wash first, then Dry: There’s an order to the process. Washing comes first. Cleaning by Design. If you just throw your clothes in the dryer without washing them first, you accomplish nothing meaningful other than getting warm sheets that feel good, but eventually the dirt on them causes real problems.

Don’t Leave the Laundry In: Ever had a load of laundry that was clean, but no one did anything with it after that?  Similarly, once we provide recommendations, if the business doesn’t act on it, the final product will smell a little musty.

Don’t Remove Laundry Before its Done: No one wants to manage soaking, sudsy laundry. Let the machine do its work. Now, if I could manage to be like the front load machines and simply not permit anyone to open the door without putting some controls in place…

We All Need Washing Machines: Seriously, who doesn’t use a washing machine? Whether you have one at home or use a laundromat (lots of machines, pay per load, able to handle huge loads – great business model), washing machines are simply a staple of modern life.

Consistent Work Product: Load after load. Great results. Doing the job right.

Complaints of Doing Laundry: So everyone complains about doing laundry, but the machine really does the massive, core job. Sure you have to give us the laundry to do along with the right tools – and yes, you have to do something with the clean clothes. And yet, complaints complaints complaints about “Ugh. Laundry Day.” Would you prefer not to have a washing machine or just have loads of dirty laundry lying around, getting in the way, stinking? Eventually, you could not actually walk around your house with all the piles of laundry or you’d just have to resign yourself to wearing dirty clothes. Oh wait – just go buy new clothes?  Eventually, you’d run into the same problem or run out of money. Just let the washing machine do its job and we’re all happier.