Privacy Advisor

Elevating data privacy within governments

March 1, 2012

The Privacy Advisor asks the OECD’s Andrew Wyckoff to expound

During remarks at an event in Mexico City in November, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) director of science, technology and industry, Andrew Wyckoff, said the matter of data privacy needs to be elevated within governments.

The OECD event, “Current Developments in Privacy Frameworks: Towards Global Interoperability,” was held in conjunction with the 33rd International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners.

The Privacy Advisor caught up with Mr. Wyckoff to ask some follow-up questions.

The Privacy Advisor: Has data privacy moved into the upper tier of any governments? In which jurisdictions does it seem to have the most elevated status?  

Wyckoff: With the growing prominence of the Internet economy, social networking and data breaches that affect millions, the importance of data privacy has grown and has begun to extend beyond privacy specialists to leaders. As Secretary-General of the OECD Angel Gurría said at the ministerial meeting on the Future of the Internet Economy, “The currency of the Internet economy is personal information.”

The growing visibility of this issue is reflected in an OECD report released in 2011 that documents the dramatic change of scale in terms of the role of personal data in our economies, societies and, of course, our lives over the last 30 years.  This report notes that OECD members agree on the need to elevate the importance of privacy to the highest levels in governments through national privacy strategies. The OECD signaled a high-level commitment to this idea when the OECD secretary-general delivered remarks for a conference on Privacy Frameworks in November 2011.

Privacy frameworks, however, are in flux around the world. A number of governments are conducting reviews of existing legislation, others are agreeing to new legislation and still others are working on whole-of-government national strategies.  The reviews at the international level, at the EU and Council of Europe as well as OECD, signal a greater sense of urgency to better adapt privacy to the realities of modern data protection. 

The Privacy Advisor: Whose job is it to bring data privacy matters up on governmental agendas?

Wyckoff: Governments face a wide and difficult array of policy challenges today.  Pushing privacy up the priority list is not easy—in part because its cross-cutting nature implicates so many aspects of government and the private sector. All stakeholders must raise awareness about the pressing need for greater attention to this issue. The OECD’s recent Recommendation on Internet Policy Making contains a principle on the importance of engaging all stakeholders in the policy-making process. This engagement is key to ensuring effective policies. Each stakeholder group can raise the visibility and attention within its own community, the combined effect of which will raise visibility of privacy on governmental agendas.

The Privacy Advisor: In a separate session in Mexico City, New Zealand Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff suggested that in the age of big data, data protection authorities (DPAs) should move into more of a leadership role and be “motivators of governments and businesses.” Do you agree with this? If so, how can DPAs motivate their governments to focus on privacy and data protection when so many seemingly more important concerns persist?

Wyckoff: Data protection authorities—we call them privacy law enforcement authorities —play a vital role in making privacy regimes effective. In 2007, the OECD produced a Council Recommendation to address the role of these authorities and, more particularly, to improve cross-border co-operation in the enforcement of privacy laws. But, as Commissioner Shroff suggests, these authorities can also play an important role in raising the visibility of privacy among governments and businesses. One method for enhancing their visibility is to work together to share best practices and collectively call attention to pressing issues. In terms of their international role, we have sought to involve these authorities directly in the policy making work at the OECD by inviting the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners as an observer to our Working Party on Information Security and Privacy. This gives privacy authorities an independent voice at the OECD table alongside government authorities—as well as business, civil society and the technical community—and an opportunity to impress on policy makers their perspective on the issues. 

—IAPP Staff