A Wealth of Data, and Nobody in Charge

The Chronicle of Higher Education


Privacy officers can also educate people about what information can be lawfully shared, says Paul M. Schwartz, a law professor and privacy specialist at Berkeley. In the months before Seung-Hui Cho's shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, in 2007, many people in contact with him were alarmed by his mental state. But, according to the Virginia Tech Review Panel, which investigated the massacre, they did not issue warnings or requests for help, because they believed they were bound by law to stay mum. "There is widespread confusion about what federal and state privacy laws allow," the panel's report said.

"A chief privacy officer," Mr. Schwartz says, "can clear up these misunderstandings."


But no matter who takes on the job, whether individually or by committee, privacy advocates emphasize that those responsible need the clout and resources to make changes. "What's important," Mr. Schwartz says, "is that they get to report to somebody that matters."