Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

HarrietPearson_smallTo paraphrase Margaret Mead, progress that matters is usually set in motion by a handful of committed people possessed by a great idea and the will to pursue it.

In that vein, this summer a small team of privacy professionals coalesced around a promising idea–providing non-profit organizations with free legal advice on responsible and pragmatic practices for protecting individual privacy and data security.

Our work led to this month’s pilot launch of the Pro Bono Privacy Initiative, under which over a dozen professionals are engaging with a handful of human services agencies, helping them to navigate mission-critical privacy and data protection considerations.

I’m hopeful that our pilot is the start of a meaningful movement that will unite lawyers and other experts in privacy and data protection in service to a cause bigger than any one of us or our organizations. 

Why is this important? Because a powerful convergence of developments has created a real need for every sector, not just non-profits, to boost attention to privacy and data security. Just consider these defining characteristics of our world:

  • More data. IDC predicts that between 2009 and 2020 the world’s digital data will grow expontentially, 44 times over, to a volume — 35 zettabytes (10 to the 21st power) – that defies easy understanding. And because it’s digitized, much of that data will be easily accessed and manipulated.
  • More risk. Access to more data brings with it obligations to use it properly:  to safeguard it, to meet privacy expectations, to comply with law. And given an evolving cybersecurity landscape, everyone—even the most sophisticated players—must continue rising up to the security challenge.  My colleague Jeff Jonas blogs eloquently on this point.

These trends affect every organization, regardless of industry or size. So it’s no surprise that in the past decade many more organizations have appointed individuals to help them chart a course thru the shifting industry standards, regulations and best practices that have emerged. It’s no wonder that the International Association of Privacy Professionals has grown from 15 to over nine thousand members in just a decade!  Surely this is a sign that the “profession” of privacy has arrived, and just like any profession, is now ready to give back of its expertise to society for the greater good.

As it happens, most of us in this field work in business or large government agencies. But according to Independent Sector, there are 1.4 million non-profits in the United States serving the broad public interest by providing services such as homeless shelters, domestic violence assistance, and nutrition support. These organizations are just like business, in that they too are looking to tap into ever-increasing amounts of data to do things like improve their services and understand and engage their supporters.

And just like others, these non-profits are increasingly likely to encounter privacy and personal data security-related issues that they must understand, analyze and plan to address. Many would welcome a source of expert assistance, particularly if it came at no cost.

That’s where the Pro Bono Privacy Initiative can help. During the 6-month pilot phase, privacy and security experts will advise participating non-profit organizations on responsible and pragmatic practices they should consider and follow, to protect individual privacy and data security. As part of the pilot, I’m delighted that my team at IBM is sharing their data security and privacy expertise with an outstanding organization: Safe Horizon, the largest victims assistance agency in the United States.

After the pilot ends, the Initiative’s leaders will assess what we’ve learned, and decide how to take this promising idea forward.  I’m not sure where our path will lead, but I’m confident that with the committed group of privacy leaders and advisers assembled, we will have positive impact on our communities and our professions.

P.S. If your non-profit or other type of organization wants more information on the Pro Bono Privacy Initiative, contact us via its Web site.

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