The critical role of a Privacy Officer: why you may need one soon

Any business that is processing personal or sensitive information should appoint a Privacy Officer to oversee compliance obligations, and protect the interests of their data subjects. Those that fail to do so may be at risk of breaching privacy regulations, which could lead to significant fines, civil litigation, and/or reputational harm.

Learn more about the Privacy Officer’s role and responsibilities below:

What is the role of a Privacy Officer? 

The Privacy Officer is responsible for implementing an organization’s privacy program and maintaining compliance obligations imposed by privacy regulations. The scope of the role may include:

  1. Establishing privacy policies and procedures
  2. Monitoring compliance controls
  3. Overseeing privacy impact assessments
  4. Ensuring staff are trained on privacy policies and obligations 
  5. Liaising with government officials 

These responsibilities may vary depending on the covered entity’s sector, size, organizational structure, or jurisdiction.

Does your business need a Privacy Officer?

Recent updates to privacy regulations have raised the stakes for those who fail to appoint a designated privacy compliance leader. For example, the Province of Québec recently amended An Act to modernize legislative provisions as regards the protection of personal information (PPIPS), under Bill 64. Among the many new obligations outlined in PPIPS, enterprise organizations must appoint a Privacy Officer by September 22, 2022. This role may be delegated in writing, in whole or in part, to an individual or group to ensure that PPIPS is implemented and complied with. Regardless, accountability remains with the person with the “highest authority”, which is usually the CEO.

Similar requirements exist in other jurisdictions, such as the European Union. Under certain circumstances, those covered under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) must appoint a Data Protection Officer.

Does your business need to comply with Québec’s new privacy law?

Regardless of where you are headquartered, if your business processes the personal information of Québec citizens, you likely need to comply. The best place to start is to conduct a privacy compliance assessment to determine whether your organization is covered under PPIPS or privacy regulations in other jurisdictions. The output of this analysis should provide a clear roadmap of requirements that need to be met.

What if you don’t appoint a Privacy Officer?

Enterprises that fail to appoint a Privacy Officer risk breaching privacy laws, which could lead to significant fines, civil litigation risk, and reputational harm. For example, administrative monetary penalties and penal provisions associated with PPIPS can be in the millions of dollars.

Do you need to provide the contact details of the Privacy Officer?

For organizations covered under PPIPS, it is mandatory to provide the title and contact information of the person in charge of protecting personal information on the enterprises’ website. If the enterprise does not have a website, it must be made available through “other appropriate means.” This is generally a best practice, irrespective of regulatory obligations. 

What attributes and credentials should a Privacy Officer have?

A Privacy Officer should have strong communication skills and be able to work effectively across departments. The individual should also be trained on all aspects of privacy compliance, including regulatory requirements, and operational oversight. At a minimum, the Privacy Officer should have received a relevant professional designation from the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) or other recognized professional body.

Should you appoint a CTO or CMO as the Privacy Officer?

Conflicts of interest may arise by appointing the CTO or CMO as the Privacy Officer. In the event of a data breach, Privacy Officers often lead the legal aspects of breach reporting with customers and regulators. Given the CTO is usually focused on ensuring systems are adequately protected, they may lack impartiality. Marketing leaders are often tasked with leveraging client data and insights to drive new business and retention, therefore may not be best suited to take on privacy compliance responsibilities.

What if you can’t afford a full-time Privacy Officer? 

Many entities covered under GDPR, ranging from start-ups to large multinationals, have outsourced the Data Protection Officer role. Hiring external advisors can offer multiple benefits, including reduced costs through a fractional resource model and access to the expertise of privacy specialists. This model is expected to become common in North America as new privacy laws take hold at a provincial, state, and federal level. 

Is appointing a Privacy Officer good for business?

In a survey commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner published in 2021, nearly nine in 10 Canadians expressed some level of concern about how organizations use their personal information. This is understandable, given the constant media coverage exposing companies that have either knowingly or inadvertently breached privacy laws. 

Businesses that take the protection of personal information for granted may negatively impact relationships with employees, customers, investors, and other stakeholders. Appointing a Privacy Officer not only helps ensure compliance obligations are met, it sends a message that your company cares about protecting personal information, and can be trusted. 

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Shaun McIver
Shaun McIver
Shaun McIver is the CEO of Vayle, a leading provider of comprehensive data privacy solutions.

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