Privacy Advisor

Showcasing the CPO

September 1, 2006

When interviewing Harriet Pearson, IBM's Chief Privacy Officer and IAPP Board Member, reporter Elizabeth Agnvall made it clear "it would be difficult to describe Harriet Pearson's job as dull." Clearly her key responsibility is to keep confidential employee and customer data out of the wrong hands. This year's high-profile Veterans Administration case further challenged the role of the privacy officer, noted Agnvall's story in a newsletter published by the Society for Human Resources Management.

As IBM's CPO of six years, Pearson, CIPP/G, said "a good CPO must do more than just ensure that companies comply with the present-day law. They must also attempt to second-guess future innovation and design company security policies and procedures accordingly. For a CPO to have the freedom to anticipate problems, a company must have a solid culture built around privacy, security and trust. Most importantly, a good CPO must coordinate with many different company divisions - from IT to communications to human resources to legal."

CPOs are clearly responsible for adhering to complex state and federal laws, particularly those that guard employee and consumer privacy and security. Chris Zoladz, vice president for information protection and privacy and CPO for Marriott International (and past president of the IAPP Board) said, "we quickly realized that there is a whole lot more to this than compliance with laws and regulations. There is a heavy business interest."

IAPP Board President Kirk Herath, CIPP/G, associate vice president, CPO and associate general counsel for Nationwide Insurance Companies, said "issues surrounding data encryption provide a window into the challenges that many CPOs face. Encryption is something we've been working on actively for two years. The urban myth is that it's easy to do. Encrypting information is easy, it's the decoding that is difficult."

Zoladz, CIPP, said CPOs will continue to serve their companies well. "Just when you think you've seen most of what you're going to see, there's something else that comes up. Every week there's a new application or a new technology, but that's what makes it exciting."