Chief Privacy Officers

Article excerpt

At least thirty-five major class action lawsuits have been filed against companies for alleged privacy transgressions this year, according to Privacy & American Business, an information, advocacy and training organization. Who is taking responsibility? As the need for information privacy protection increases, more companies are establishing chief privacy officers (CPOs).

CPOs are high-ranking executives with backgrounds in law, customer relations, technology and public affairs. They are responsible for monitoring and protecting consumers' and employees' personal information. At present, there are fewer than one hundred CPOs working at American corporations, often reporting directly to the CEO, CFO or CIO.

"The CPO's job is a combination of [being] fifty thousand feet [high] and down in the dirt," says Shelly Harms, executive director of Verizon Communications. "CPOs must walk the fence between respecting privacy concerns and helping their companies earn a profit."

According to Alan Westin, president of Privacy & American Business, the CPO performs several major functions: initiating privacy assessments of data; establishing an internal task force; examining global protections; resolving privacy disputes; establishing clear procedures for customers to issue complaints; educating employees about privacy protection policies; reviewing proposed product and service launches; and keeping a close watch on public relations and marketing campaigns. …