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Meet Omer Tene, Vice President of Research at the IAPP

August 26, 2013

The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) has appointed Dr. Omer Tene as its first vice president of research and education. In his new role, Tene will be in charge of establishing a research and education function for the organization; heading the recently launched Westin Fellowship Program; fostering ties between the industry and academia, and serving as a center of privacy knowledge to support all IAPP functions.

Omer Tene

Tene is well known to many members of the IAPP—both privacy academics and practitioners—and has been involved with the organization for many years. He is a world-renowned privacy scholar, who served as vice dean of the Israeli College of Management School of Law. In addition, he ran a consulting business, advising governments, international organizations and private-sector businesses on various aspects of U.S., European and Israeli privacy, data protection and cybersecurity law. He is an affiliate scholar at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and a senior fellow at the Future of Privacy Forum. He served as rapporteur to the OECD in its review of the 1980 Privacy Guidelines and headed the steering committee for the 32nd annual conference of privacy and data protection commissioners.

The Privacy Advisor recently asked Tene to describe his new role, his vision for it and what it’s like to move from Israel to New Hampshire.

The Privacy Advisor: Why leave an academic position and move your family halfway across the globe for a job at the IAPP?

Tene: I am tremendously excited about the prospects of the research and education function at IAPP; particularly the opportunity to create a new structure with great potential for impact in both the academic and business communities. After a week at the IAPP, I feel like a kid in a candy store. There are just so many fascinating privacy projects to choose from and activities to engage in. Few if any organizations have the scope and breadth of privacy expertise that IAPP has today. I will have an opportunity to help steer IAPP’s main functions, including certification, which comprises training, preparation of materials and testing; events, with several major annual conferences in the U.S., Europe and the rest of the world; publications, with whitepapers, blogs, newsletters and web conferences, and policymaking, to establish benchmarks for the skillset and training required for a still nascent privacy profession.

The Privacy Advisor: What is your vision for the IAPP research and education function?

Tene: My goals for the research function are threefold: First, with the help of the Westin Research Fellows, we intend to generate new research that is applicable and practicable and at the same time helps inform the policy discussion. A lot depends on the selection of topics, and with the help of our research advisory board we have already identified several issues for analysis. Second, we intend to leverage the clout of the IAPP network to support privacy programs in academic institutions, by helping place students in externships—for academic credit—or internships–for pay–at leading local businesses and offering students a deep discount on their CIPP training and certification. We have already implemented this model at the Summer Information Privacy Institute at the University of Maine School of Law and intend to extend it to other institutions in the U.S. and abroad in law, technology and business schools. Third, we will create ties between IAPP members and academics, bringing academic voices to IAPP events and initiating interdisciplinary and multi-jurisdictional privacy research. At this point in time in the lifecycle of the privacy profession, it is essential to marry the academic and professional spheres to ensure that scholarship addresses the real world concerns of professionals and that business and policy leaders are informed by cutting edge academic research.

The Privacy Advisor: The privacy terrain has become increasingly politicized, polarized and divisive. The NSA revelations have strained trust between government, business and civil society. Privacy has become an issue of major contention between Europe and the U.S.; cybersecurity between the U.S. and China. Is this a good time for coolheaded contemplation and academic research?

Tene: It couldn’t be better. How often does an academic get an opportunity to help inform policy at the very time that it’s being molded? I feel so fortunate to have become involved with privacy when it was just gathering steam as the leading social, political, economic and legal issue of our time. Before becoming a privacy professional, I was a corporate law scholar and practitioner. With corporate law, most theory and doctrine were put in place decades ago. Privacy and cybersecurity are happening right now. There’s simply no topic more exciting to engage in, drawing out technological, economic, social studies, political and indeed philosophical questions.

In the current environment, the IAPP is well placed to conduct impartial research. We are not an advocacy organization and our research is not intended to take a position on divisive issues such as government access or online tracking. What we do advocate is the improvement and promotion of the privacy profession. This is not controversial or contentious. Just as you expect your dentist or CPA to be qualified, well trained, and certified by a reputable organization, so should the individuals who handle vast quantities of sometime super-sensitive personal information be required to meet generally acceptable standards and criteria. Organizational processes such as Privacy Impact Assessments and data de-identification have become complex, highly specialized, rapidly developing tasks. The IAPP, in its drive to define, support and improve the privacy profession seeks to set standards, guidelines and procedures to ensure that these processes are administered by adequately trained and certified professionals.   

Having said all that, I note that even with respect to issues such as the NSA revelations, there’s plenty of room for a level-headed discussion. Technological advances have radically changed the landscape in which national security, cybersecurity and law enforcement organizations operate. It is unclear whether existing legal distinctions, such as those between automated and human monitoring; content and non-content; or personally identifiable and de-identified data can still hold. IAPP members need to understand these issues with great clarity.  Our team will work to provide that clarity through our research projects.

How does Karmey Yossef, Israel, compare to Portsmouth, New Hampshire?

We live in a small village in Israel, so we are not encountering too great of a lifestyle change. And August was fabulously sunny and warm; so I am assuming the weather in New Hampshire is similar to that in Israel. Israel is a very small country with high population density and an intensive social tempo. In that respect, what my family and I find in New Hampshire is, well—more privacy.