Recently, high-profile cases involving breaches of privacy revealed the ongoing need to ensure that personal information is properly protected. The issue is multidimensional, involving regulations, corporate policies, reputation concerns, and technology development.
Organizations often have an uneasy truce with privacy regulations, viewing them as an obstacle to the free use of information that might help the organization in some way.
But like many compliance and governance issues, managing privacy will offer benefits, protecting organizations from breaches that violate laws and damage an organization's reputation. Sometimes the biggest risks in privacy compliance arise from the failure to take some basic steps. A holistic view is beneficial.
Privacy Compliance Components
Rather than being in conflict with the business objectives, privacy should be fully integrated with it. Privacy management should be part of knowledge management program.
An effective privacy management program has three major components: establish clear policies and procedures, follow procedures to make sure that organization's operation is in compliance with those policies, and provide an oversight to ensure accountability. Example of questions to consider: is data being shared with third parties, why the information is being collected, and what is being done with it.
Expertise about privacy compliance varies widely across industries, corresponding to some degree with the size of an organization. Although large companies are far from immune to privacy violations, they might at least be aware and knowledgeable about the issue.
The biggest mistake that organizations make in handling privacy is to collect data without a clear purpose. You should know not just how you are protecting personal information but also why you are collecting it. It is important for organizations to identify and properly classify all their data.
Increasingly, organizations must consider the different regulations that apply in countries throughout the world, as well as the fact that the regulations are changing. For example, on March 12, 2014, the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) will replace the existing National Privacy Principles and Information Privacy Principles.
The new principles will apply to all organizations, whether public or private, and contain a variety of requirements including open and transparent management of personal information. Of particular relevance to global companies are principles on the use and disclosure of personal information for direct marketing, and cross-border disclosure of personal information.
It is important to consider international regulations in those countries where an organization has operations.
The market for privacy management software products is still relatively small. The market for this software is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years. The current reform process for data protection has created a need for privacy managing technology.
Products from companies such as Compliance 360 automate the process of testing the risk for data breaches, which is required for the audits mandated by the Economic Stimulus Act of 2009. This act expanded the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 requirements through its Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) provisions.
These provisions include increased requirements for patient confidentiality and new levels of enforcement and penalties. In the absence of suitable software products, organizations must carry out the required internal audits and other processes manually, which is time consuming and subject to errors.
Enterprise content management (ECM), business process management (BPM) and business intelligence (BI) technology have important role in privacy compliance because content, processes, and reporting are critical aspects of managing sensitive information.
As generic platforms, they can be customized, which has both advantages and disadvantages. They have a broad reach throughout the enterprise, and can be used for many applications beyond privacy compliance. However, they are generally higher priced and require development to allow them to perform that function.
Privacy in the Cloud
Cloud applications and data storage have raised concerns about security in general, and personally identifiable information (PII) in particular. Although many customers of cloud services have concluded that cloud security is as good or better than the security they provide in-house, the idea that personally identifiable information could be "out there" is unsettling.
PerspecSys offers a solution for handling sensitive data used in cloud-based applications that allows storage in the cloud while filtering out personal information and replacing it with an indecipherable token or encrypted value.
The sensitive data is replaced by a token or encrypted value that takes its place in the cloud-based application. The "real" data is retrieved from local storage when the token or encrypted value is retrieved from the cloud. Thus, even though the application is in the cloud, the sensitive information is neither stored in the cloud nor viewable there. It physically resides behind the firewall and can only be seen from there.
This feature is especially useful in an international context where data residency and sovereignty requirements often specify that data needs to stay within a specific geographic area.
Challenges for Small Organizations
Small to medium-sized organizations generally do not have a dedicated compliance or privacy officer, and may be at a loss as to where to start.
Information Shield provides a set of best practices including a policy library with prewritten policies, detailed information on U.S. and international privacy laws, checklists and templates, as well as a discussion of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Fair Information Principles. Those resources are aimed at companies that may not have privacy policies in place but need to do so to provide services to larger healthcare or financial services organizations.
Among the resources is a list of core privacy principles based on OECD principles. Each principle has a question, brief discussion and suggested policy. For example, the purpose specification principle states, "The purposes for which personal information is collected should be specified no later than the time of data collection, and the subsequent use should be limited to fulfilling those purposes or such others that are specified to the individuals at the time of the change of purpose." The discussion includes comments on international laws and a citation of several related rulings.
Plans for Future
Business users and consumers alike have become accustomed to the efficiency and speed of digital data. However, more strict regulations are inevitable. Organizations should become more aware of having to prevent privacy breaches, and to make sure they have the systems in place to do this. Companies should also be concerned about reputation damage, which can severely affect business. Along with reliable technology, the best way forward is to follow best practices with respect to data privacy. Technology is essential, but it also has to be supported by people and processes.