Many organizations fear their privacy activities are insufficient
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Many organizations fear their privacy activities are insufficient

The perceived level of maturity attached to organizations' privacy activities has decreased since 2011, as many organizations deem their existing privacy activities to be inadequate, according to a survey by Gartner, Inc. ( The survey found that 43% of organizations have a comprehensive privacy management program in place, while 7% admitted to "doing the bare minimum" regarding privacy laws.

"More than a third of organizations still 'consider privacy aspects in an ad hoc fashion' and it is surprising that so many companies are saying that they are not conducting privacy impact assessments before major projects," says Carsten Casper, research vice president at Gartner. "Sixty-two percent do not scan websites and applications, or conduct an organization-wide privacy audit every year. Organizations must put these activities on their to-do list for 2014."

These results are based on 221 respondent organizations surveyed in April and May 2013 in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Germany that are responsible for privacy, IT risk management, information security, business continuity or regulatory compliance activities.

"Organizations continue to invest more in privacy due to ongoing public attention and a number of new or anticipated legal requirements," says Casper. "They also show that previous investments have not always paid off and that organizations need to refocus their privacy efforts if they want to raise the maturity level of their privacy programs back to that of 2011."

He adds that many organizations are looking to boost their privacy activities through increased staffing and budgets to initiate comprehensive privacy programs to deal with cloud, mobile, big data and social computing challenges. Creating the right staffing model is crucial to the long-term success of privacy programs and central to that is the role of a privacy officer.

"Gartner's consistent observation is that privacy programs are only successful if someone is driving them. Almost 90% of organizations now have at least one person responsible for privacy," says Casper. "However, having privacy programs that are owned by this individual is still not the norm. Only 66% of survey respondents said they have a defined privacy officer role - although the number is as high as 85% in Germany and similar countries where this role is a legal requirement."

He adds that a privacy officer should have broad expertise and solid relationship management and communication skills, because they must monitor a variety of (sometimes conflicting) business and IT requirements and collaborate with different internal and external business functions. In larger organizations, privacy officers will not only require a budget and a team, their success is also dependent on support from senior management.

Fortunately, it seems that the need to address privacy concerns more decisively is already being reflected in the amount of investment by organizations. Thirty two percent of survey respondents said that their organizations have increased privacy-related staff from 2012 to 2013 -- the most significant increase since Gartner started its privacy surveys in 2008.

The survey found that 38% of organizations transform personal data before transmitting it abroad (with masking, encryption or similar), thus keeping sensitive data local, while allowing some functionality abroad. This is the preferred option compared to domestic storage (29%), remote storage with only local access (27%) and with a focus on legal protection (22%).

"When storing and accessing personal data, organizations face a number of options. They can store data locally or in a low-cost country, allow access to domestic or remote staff, use a provider for application management or for infrastructure management, or implement legal and technical controls, such as data masking, tokenization and encryption," says Casper. "There is no right or wrong answer. Organizations have to decide which type of risk they want to mitigate, how much money they want to spend and how much residual risk they are willing to accept."

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