Newly created state privacy officer to tackle privacy concerns

Nov 16, 2021, 8:09 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — The office of the State Auditor announced it has filled the newly created state privacy officer position Tuesday, a role that will oversee how cities, counties, and schools are handling your personal information.

Protecting your personal privacy has become more of a priority in recent months and years, as technology advances and as more tech companies come under scrutiny for their use of sensitive data.

“Overall citizens are more concerned about privacy,” said State Auditor John Dougall.

“Folks talk about facial recognition software. And so, what kind of data is being collected and analyzed by governments today? Folks talk about automated license plate readers where you can read the license plate off cars coming and going from a town. To what extent is that appropriate? How long should that data be preserved? Who should have access to it and for what purposes?”

In 2019 Utah tech firm Banjo was awarded a contract with the state but the deal fell apart in 2020 after controversial details came out about the company’s founder. That turned into a concern over how the company was using personal information.

“This was a contract that the state had with a private company and there were concerns about the amount of sensitive information that that company might have access to,” Dougall said.

Dougall’s office conducted an audit and found the company did not improperly use personal information. But that didn’t stop the state from making changes.

“We hear breaches of sensitive information in the private sector in the government sector and all sorts of activity like that. And so I think it’s critical that Utah have folks like this whose focus is helping governments understand what the risks are, what are the best practices when it comes to protecting sensitive information.”

Earlier this year the state legislature created the new personal privacy oversight commission. In July the governor appointed a Government Operations Privacy Officer to work with state agencies on protecting privacy. And on Tuesday Dougall announced that Dr. Whitney Phillips will fill the newly created position of state privacy officer in his office.

Dr. Phillips is currently Chief Privacy Officer for the Utah State Board of Education. As the state privacy officer she will expand from just overseeing schools and districts’ use of sensitive information to also analyzing and reporting on how the cities and counties we live in use the information we share with them.

“There’s a lot of sensitive student information out there. She’s been critical to helping our school districts and charter schools make sure they have good protections in place when it comes to that kind of data.”

As state privacy officer she will look for what practices in those government entities pose the greatest risk to our information and then provide education and training aimed at helping to protect our privacy.

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Newly created state privacy officer to tackle privacy concerns